Ahavas Yisrael is the foundation of the entire Torah.
It therefore follows that one should never be lenient in this mitzvah, for in so doing, it would lead to leniencies in other mitzvos.
Therefore, as the foundation of all mitzvos, ahavas Yisrael should be observed with great strength.
A number of reasons are given as to the pivotal nature of this mitzvah:
- The foundation and root of the whole Torah is based on the principle of "elevating the soul over the body." Only one who truly views the soul as primary and the body as secondary can properly observe the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael.
- The foundation and root of the Torah is based on the principle of drawing down the light of the Ein Sof (the infinite light of G-d) into "Knesses Yisrael," i.e., the collective entity comprising all the souls of Israel, and this is achieved through ahavas Yisrael.
The fundamental nature of ahavas Yisrael is demonstrated in the Talmudic
story of the proselyte who approached Hillel and requested that Hillel teach him the entire Torah while the proselyte stood on one foot,
to which Hillel replied, "What you do not like done unto yourself, do not do unto others - this is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary."
The meaning behind Hillel's statement was:
- The goal of all mitzvos is to reach the level of transcending the attachment to the material nature of this world and to be totally absorbed in the unity of G-d. This, as stated above, is the essential nature of ahavas Yisrael.
- Every mitzvah draws Divine light into the world. This diffusion of the light of the Ein Sof is typified by the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael and it therefore exemplifies the nature of all mitzvos. The basis of each mitzvah can therefore be explained by examining the nature of the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael.
The founder of the Chassidic movement, the Baal Shem Tov, had unlimited ahavas Yisrael
for all Jews. In the first years of the Baal Shem Tov's leadership, he called his students "beloved ones," and because of this, his opponents dubbed them "chassidim."
Before the Baal Shem Tov revealed himself, he served as an aide in a cheder, taking the children to and from school. About him the Maggid of Mezeritch once remarked: I wish that I would be able to kiss a Sefer Torah with the same love with which the Baal Shem Tov kissed a child when the child said the aleph-beis.
In his Tanya, the classic work known as the written law of Chabad philosophy, the Alter Rebbe dedicates chapter 32  to the subject of ahavas Yisrael. Since the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word "lev" ("heart") is 32, this suggests that the "heart" of Tanya, and, in fact, the heart of Chassidic life, is ahavas Yisrael.
The Rebbe Maharash once said:
"Of what use is Chassidus and yiras Shamayim, fear of Heaven, if the main thing - ahavas Yisrael - is missing?"
A "chassid" is one who is dedicated to seeking the best for another and who gives up personal benefits for another's good even when personal gain is not assured and the benefit for the other is doubtful.
As an example of the great importance of ahavas Yisrael to the Chassidic way of life, we are told that in the times of the Alter Rebbe, the love between chassidim was so immense that it was like the love between brothers. Others who were not from the Chassidic camp admired the fraternity displayed by the chassidim. Despite that, that Alter Rebbe once commented that this fraternity did not reach the level of ahavas Yisrael demanded by the Baal Shem Tov.
Although ahavas Yisrael exists among all Israel in general and amongst chassidim in particular, it is and must be the specialty of Chassidei Chabad - Lubavitch.
The Previous Rebbe related in a talk how the Mezritcher Maggid wished to be able to kiss a Sefer Torah with the same love that the Baal Shem Tov had for every Jew (see above). The Previous Rebbe then added (also in the name of the Maggid) that if, while he was still living in this world, the Baal Shem Tov would have known that which he knows now (i.e., how much he achieved with his love for all Jews) it would have been totally different!
The Rebbe Rashab once said: Love is the life-spirit of Chassidus. It is the thread that binds chassidim together, and it is the thread that binds the Rebbe with chassidim and the chassidim with the Rebbe. It has no limitations and it transcends all boundaries of time and place.
It is well known that the Rebbes of Chabad set aside time to contemplate deeply each one of their chassidim, reflecting upon their mutual love. Such "avodah," even from a physical distance, had the powerful effect of stimulating and arousing the inner powers of those about whom they were thinking.
Why does chassidus place such an emphasis on the Mitzvah of Ahavas Yisrael?
- Doing a favor for another in the material world exhibits the unity between the physical and the spiritual realms, because the material belongings of another are considered his spiritual concern. This displays true "achdus HaShem," unity of G-d, in that it realizes that both the material and spiritual worlds are all created by One G-d, which is a fundamental teaching of Chassidus.
- As mentioned above, ahavas Yisrael will bring about the final Redemption. The teachings of Chassidus are also a preparation for the coming of Mashiach, as we know from the well-known answer of Mashiach to the Baal Shem Tov that Mashiach will come when the wellsprings of the teachings of Chassidus will be spread forth.
The way to unlock the inner dimensions of the soul is through the study of Chassidus. And revealing the inner dimension of the soul will reveal the inner dimension of G-d, which is the revelation of Mashiach. Since the three loves, ahavas Yisrael, HaShem, and the Torah are one, it follows that ahavas Yisrael is central to the Chassidic doctrine which is the revelation of the essence.
- (Back to text) Shabbos 31a; Talmud Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4.
- (Back to text) Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 2, p. 321.
- (Back to text) Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 128.
The Torah instructs us not to add or detract from the detail of any mitzvah. How much more so is this applicable in the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael.
It could be that out of love, one could overstep the limit and help somebody to sin, G-d forbid, in particular to do a "light" sin. Or it could be that when there comes a time that one is obligated to rebuke, in particular a child (be it in years or knowledge of Judaism), one will refrain because of misplaced love. In this case, the Torah says, "Do not add," i.e., one must rebuke.
Conversely, one may start to rebuke loudly and in public with insults, etc. Says the Torah, "Do not detract," i.e., first rebuke quietly and in private with soft words, and only if one has failed can one rebuke publicly using the guidelines set out in Shulchan Aruch (Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 24, p. 602). See also Sefer HaMaamarim 5710, p. 243, that ahavas Yisrael should not lead a person to be blind to the faults of others, rather, the rebuke must be given in a way of kiruv. One should first search for the fault in oneself and then rebuke oneself loudly so that when the other hears, he too will be aroused to repent for his sin.
- (Back to text) Tanya, ch. 32. See also Or HaTorah, Chanukah, p. 312b.
- (Back to text) What was described in ch. 2, footnote 18, as the unity of Kudsha Brich Hu and His Shechinah.
- (Back to text) Tanya, ch. 32; Derech Mitzvosecha, p. 29a. A further reason why ahavas Yisrael is so fundamental is that according to Kabbalah, the root of the Torah is from the world of "Tikkun" where everything is blended and interdependent (as opposed to the world of "Tohu" where everything is independent) and this interdependency is reflected in ahavas Yisrael. See Toras Chaim, Noach, p. 72b; Or HaTorah, ibid.
- (Back to text) Shabbos 31a. See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 1, p. 16 as to why Hillel phrased his words in the negative rather than issuing a positive directive.
- (Back to text) See Or HaTorah Chanukah, p.313a, for a Kabbalistic explanation as to why the ger stood on one foot.
- (Back to text) Derech Mitzvosecha, p. 29b. Furthermore, as explained above in footnote 6, ahavas Yisrael demonstrates clearly the world of Tikkun whereas each mitzvah is a detail in the general tikkun - see Toras Chaim, ibid.
- (Back to text) Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 3, p. 770, 1125. See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 23, p. 535. See Sefer HaSichos 5705, p. 39, that true ahavas Yisrael is to be found among chassidim.
- (Back to text) The Previous Rebbe writes in Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 3, ibid.: "When the Baal Shem Tov was five years old, he was orphaned by the passing of his father, the gaon and tzaddik, R. Eliezer. On his deathbed, his father instructed the Baal Shem Tov: 'My son, do not fear anyone or anything; only HaShem. Love every Jew from the depth of your heart and with the fire of your soul without any differentiation of who or what he is.' " In this short last will and testimony, the Baal Shem Tov's father showed him the path on which he would embark for the rest of his life. The two ideals, fear of Heaven and ahavas Yisrael, were to become the two "Tablets of Stone" of his life. The twin lights of "I set HaShem continually before me" and ahavas Yisrael would burn in him continuously.
For more material concerning the great ahavas Yisrael of the Baal Shem Tov, see Sefer HaSichos 5703, p. 151.
See also Maamarim 5748, pp. 229-230 regarding the added dimension of ahavas Yisrael by a Nassi.
- (Back to text) Sefer HaMaamarim 5710, p. 86.
- (Back to text) Sefer HaMaamarim 5709, p. 87. See HaYom Yom, the 16th of Tammuz: "The Maggid said: 'If only we would kiss a Sefer Torah with the same love that my Master kissed the children when he took them to cheder as a teacher's assistant.'"
- (Back to text) See Igros Kodesh of the Previous Rebbe, Vol. 9, p. 161, where it states that the Alter Rebbe received from the Maggid the teaching that one must love a Jew because he is a Jew.
See Sefer HaMaamarim 5707, p. 256, where the Previous Rebbe writes that he heard from his father the Rebbe Rashab a tradition passed down from Rebbe to Rebbe that when the Alter Rebbe was in Mezeritch, the Maggid revealed to him who the Alter Rebbe was: that he had a new soul from the world of Atzilus which had enclothed itself in a revealed manner in a body. The avodah of this soul was to reveal and explain the Torah of the Baal Shem Tov, as regards ahavas HaShem and ahavas Yisrael and also to reveal Chassidus Chabad. The Maggid also instructed the Alter Rebbe in the name of the Baal Shem Tov to draw the simple folk nearer to Yiddishkeit, for one needs to love a Jew because he is a Jew. See also Igros Kodesh of the Previous Rebbe, Vol. 8, p. 110: "The Alter Rebbe said that the AriZal merited to see Eliyahu and to have ruach hakodesh due to the great simchah he had when doing a mitzvah, and the Baal Shem Tov merited the revelation of Eliyahu and ruach hakodesh through joy in ahavas Yisrael. The Alter Rebbe took the Baal Shem Tov's ahavas Yisrael and planted it in all Chassidishe hearts, not only in thought or speech, but in action - true Chassidishe ahavas Yisrael."
See also Sefer HaToldos of the Alter Rebbe, Vol. 1, p. 127, that on his first visit to Mezeritch he heard a teaching from the Maggid in the name of the Baal Shem Tov: "The cloud of the ketores of Yom Kippur becomes the schach (foliage covering) of the sukkah, whose spiritual content is, "I love you, says the L-rd." From that moment on, the conduct of the Alter Rebbe changed. Until then he had remained aloof from the simple folk, but after he heard this teaching, he was mekarev them.
- (Back to text) The Rebbe in Sefer HaSichos 5751, Vol. 1, p. 266, points out that chapter 32 was missing in the first edition of Tanya, and the text followed from chs. 31 to 33. It was only in the second and final edition that it was included. From this fact we can conclude that although there may have been a thought not to include ch. 32 (since one does not necessarily have to mention the concept of ahavas Yisrael in every context) the Alter Rebbe saw in the end that one cannot do without it. In every context, it is therefore necessary to stress the idea of ahavas Yisrael.
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 24, p. 237.
- (Back to text) The spirit of the Alter Rebbe's ahavas Yisrael is obvious when one reads through Tanya; see Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 3, p. 827; Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 2.
In Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 9, p. 156, footnote 23, the Rebbe explains further that since Tanya is the "written law" of Chassidus, and the chapter dealing with ahavas Yisrael is ch. 32 (the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word for "heart," lev, is 32), it follows that ahavas Yisrael is the heart of Chassidus. To explain further: The perfection of each limb of the body is dependent on keeping the mitzvah related to that specific limb. (Likkutei Torah, Nitzavim, p. 45c). Since ahavas Yisrael is connected to the heart (i.e., lev), it therefore follows that the mitzvah corresponding to the heart is ahavas Yisrael. (Although there are many mitzvos connected with the heart, since ahavas Yisrael is "the entire Torah" [Shabbos 31a], which also includes all the mitzvos of the obligations of the heart [see HaYom Yom, p. 49, that ahavas Yisrael is greater than ahavas HaShem] it follows that the whole existence of the heart is connected with ahavas Yisrael.) Since this is the case with the human heart, it is also the case with the heart of the Torah - since Torah is compared to a person - and is also the heart of the inner dimension of the Torah. [See Zohar, Vol. 3, p. 29b and Sefer HaMaamarim 5701, Mashcheini, ch. 6.] This concept is further illuminated by the statement in Iggeres HaKodesh, Epsitle 31 that when ahavas Yisrael in the hearts of the Jewish people is as it is prescribed in ch. 32 of Tanya, the heart of G-d, the Shechinah, is also healthy.
See also Maamarim 5748, p. 56, Sefer HaMaamarim Meluket, Vol. 1, p. 468; Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 3, p. 770.
- (Back to text) HaYom Yom, p. 77.
- (Back to text) Sefer HaSichos 5700, pp. 32-33. See HaTamim, No. 4, p. 45, for some beautiful stories of how great chassidim conducted themselves in this mitzvah. From the stories themselves one may learn many halachas of love, friendship and peace. Well known is the saying of the Rebbe Rashab (see Sefer HaSichos 5701, p. 136) that a chassid is a "lamplighter." In order to ignite the soul of another (for the soul is compared to a flame - "the lamp of G-d is the soul of man," Mishlei 20:27), a chassid is prepared to overlook personal gain. He will even do this when it is doubtful if he will be successful in his mission, since he is working with a person who ultimately has free choice and who may (G-d forbid) choose not to follow the path of Torah and mitzvos. Even so, the chassid will do his utmost to try.
- (Back to text) Sichah of the 12th of Tammuz 5722. In this vein the Alter Rebbe explained the Talmud in Niddah 17a, that a chassid burns his pared fingernails, even though burning the nails damages him (in a spiritual sense). See Tosafos, ibid.
- (Back to text) Ibid.
- (Back to text) See Sefer HaSichos 5705, p. 39: In a Simchas Beis Hasho'eva farbrengen in the year 5654, the Rebbe Rashab said that ahavas Yisrael is truly demonstrated by chassidim. At that farbrengen were R. Aharon and R. Yekusiel, both Chassidishe melamdim. R. Aharon responded to the Rebbe's words by saying: "Like the love of brothers." R. Yekusiel responded, "Eh! Like the love of chassidim." The Rebbe responded, "This is an understanding of a Chassidishe melamed - that is the or chozer (a reflection of the light) of komatz aleph oh! And today why is it [ahavas Yisrael] missing? Because the ego is a divider."
See also Sefer HaMaamarim 5710, p. 264, that a Chassidishe kiss and greeting is full of ahavas Yisrael.
- (Back to text) Sefer HaSichos 5700, p. 117. In Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 3, p. 1028, the Previous Rebbe explains the difference between the revelations of ahavas Yisrael of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid and the Alter Rebbe. The Baal Shem was the one who revealed and exposed the idea that ahavas Yisrael, ahavas HaShem and ahavas HaTorah are interconnected and essentially one. The Maggid articulated intellectually the connection between these three loves by way of explaining the three levels of love of HaShem: "with all your heart," "with all your soul," and "with all your might." The Alter Rebbe showed the way in which each and every one can and must reveal these three loves, and pronounced that ahavas Yisrael is the "gateway" through which one ascends to all levels. See also Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 2, p. 412.
- (Back to text) And since Chassidus is for all Israel, such should also be the conduct of all Israel (Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 1, p. 260). See sichah of Purim 5705 printed in Kovetz Lubavitch, Vol. 7, p. 22. See also Igros Kodesh of the Previous Rebbe, Vol. 2, p. 119, on the importance of a farbrengen in the spirit of ahavas Yisrael.
See also the letter from the Rebbe (Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 21, p. 493), that the education received in Lubavitcher yeshivas is based on the three loves: ahavas HaShem, Torah and Yisrael, and that is why one will find past students of the yeshivas in all areas of the world spreading Yiddishkeit with great ahavas Yisrael. See also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 25, p. 337: a call to the shluchim that the essence of Chabad is ahavas Yisrael.
It is also well known that the Rebbe distributed Kuntres Heichaltzu for the purpose of instilling ahavas Yisrael amongst chassidim, and often encouraged that the maamar be studied in public. For example, see Igros Kodesh of the Rebbe, Vol. 18, p. 221.
See also Igros Kodesh of the Previous Rebbe, Vol. 1, p. 146, where he writes about the necessity of friends and brotherly love. See ibid., p. 198, that chassidim should write to each other and maintain their friendship even from a distance.
See also Igros Kodesh, Vol. 7, p. 187, where the Rebbe writes about unity among Anash: "In answer to your letter, it appears that you feel rather forlorn, the main reason being that in your opinion you are not befriended by Anash, and they are not doing enough for your wellbeing. I am not now going to dwell on the cause of this matter, however such conduct is the opposite of the desire of the Rebbes of Chabad who sought with great intensity unity among Anash, both for those who were born into Chabad families (born chassidim) and how much more so for those who became chassidim."
- (Back to text) See Sefer HaZichronos (Memoirs of the Previous Rebbe), Vol. 1, p. 2, in which he states that the name of the town Lubavitch was given because the founder of the settlement, a Jew named R. Meir, was filled with ahavas Yisrael and of love for all creations in general. Thus the town was named "Lyuba," which means "love" (in Russian) with the suffix "itch" added. The name Lubavitch itself therefore implies love, ahavas Yisrael and ahavas HaShem.
- (Back to text) Sefer HaSichos 5701, p. 32; 5704, p. 163. Sefer HaMaamarim 5709, p. 87. HaYom Yom, p. 71.
- (Back to text) See Appendix to Kesser Shem Tov 233.
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 16, p. 31.
- (Back to text) Igros Kodesh of the Previous Rebbe, Vol. 4, p. 429.
- (Back to text) Sichah of Shabbos Mevarchim Elul 5712.
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 2, p. 609; Vol. 4, pp. 1119, 1235.
- (Back to text) See sichah of Yud Shevat 5720, section 3.