|To Love A Fellow Jew|
The Mitzvah of Ahavas Yisrael in Chassidic Thought
Hillel And Rabbi Akiva
by Rabbi Nissan Dovid Dubov
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The Talmud in tractate Shabbos 31a relates the following well-known story of Hillel:
"On another occasion it happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, "Make me a proselyte, on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Thereupon he chased him away with the builder's cubit that was in his hand. When he came before Hillel, (he also asked Hillel to teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot) Hillel replied, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah while the rest is commentary; go and learn it."
While it is clearly suggested in the Talmud that ahavas Yisrael is the entire Torah and the rest is commentary, this statement of Hillel requires clarification.
It is well known that the 613 Commandments may broadly be divided into two categories: between man and G-d, and between man and man. The mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael is obviously fundamental in the realm of mitzvos between man and man; however, how can it be suggested that it is the entire Torah - that it also applies to mitzvos between man and G-d?
On the verse, "Love your fellow as yourself," the classic commentator Rashi quotes from Toras Kohanim, an early Midrashic text regarding the famous dictum of Rabbi Akiva: "Love your fellow as yourself - Rabbi Akiva says this is a great principle of the Torah."
It is well known that Rabbi Akiva lived many years after Hillel. One may therefore ask: If Hillel has already stated that ahavas Yisrael is the entire Torah and the rest of the Torah is just commentary, what has Rabbi Akiva added in his statement by saying that ahavas Yisrael is a "great principle" of the Torah? Surely this idea is already included in the words of Hillel.
We will answer the above questions by first introducing another famous saying of Hillel.
"Hillel said: Be of the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures, and bringing them near to the Torah."
One may ask, what is the connection between "loving your fellow creatures" and "bringing them near to the Torah"? The mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael tells us to show concern for another in all matters both material and spiritual. The Baal Shem Tov taught that one must look to do a favor for another without making it conditional on spiritual achievement or circumstance. Why then does the mishnah make this connection?
One way of explaining it is to say that the mishnah is giving a directive as to the boundaries of ahavas Yisrael: fulfilling the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael should never be an excuse to "dilute" the words or ways of the Torah to the ways of the people, rather the opposite: one must draw the people nearer to the ways of the Torah.
According to this explanation, however, the words "and bring them near to the Torah" are peripheral to the concept of ahavas Yisrael, explaining only the parameters of ahavas Yisrael. The plain meaning of the mishnah instead implies that "bringing them near to the Torah" is not merely tangential but rather a direct consequence of "loving your fellow creatures," i.e., ahavas Yisrael reflects itself and is demonstrated in "bringing them near to the Torah."
The question is made even stronger with the explanation in chapter 32 of Tanya which states that ahavas Yisrael must be in a way of realizing that the other Jew possesses a soul which, in its source, is one with all other souls, which explains why ahavas Yisrael has no limits and applies to the great as well as the small - and as the Mezritcher Maggid says - one must love the perfectly wicked just as the perfectly righteous. If ahavas Yisrael must be independent of the Jew's standing in his G-dly service, why then does the mishnah state that ahavas Yisrael must manifest itself in "bringing them near to the Torah"?
There is a well-known saying of the Sages:
"The thought of Israel preceded any other." This means that when G-d created the world, Israel preceded Torah in His thought.
On the other hand, the Zohar teaches: "Israel connects with the Torah, and the Torah connects with G-d," which seems to suggest that Torah precedes Israel.
Chassidic philosophy explains: In their source, Israel stands higher than the Torah. However, as souls descend below, Torah is higher than Israel, and the connection of a soul to G-d is through Torah.
This explanation elucidates the two opposites in a Jew:
- Since in his source a Jew stands higher than Torah; therefore, "A Jew even though he has sinned is still called a Jew." No number of sins can rid the Jew of the title "Jew," because the connection of the Jew's essence with G-d is not dependent upon his observance of Torah and mitzvos.
- It is this very essential connection that brings every Jew ultimately to do teshuvah, and since the connection of a soul with G-d is through the Torah (once the soul descends into a body), eventually the essential connection will bring every Jew to keep the Torah and mitzvos.
These two opposites reflect themselves in the Mitzvah of Ahavas Yisrael.
The essence of ahavas Yisrael is the love for the soul as it stands in its source united with all other souls, and as it stands above Torah. That essential love therefore transcends Torah observance and extends itself even to those who are distant from the Torah. On this level, there is no differentiation between a tzaddik and a rasha. Furthermore, the love is not limited to the spirituality of the other Jew but even extends to his material requirements, for even his material requirements are those of a Jew (as we view the soul in its essential state.)
However, since the connection of the soul with G-d - as it descends below - is through Torah, therefore ahavas Yisrael becomes a mitzvah of the Torah, (i.e., we must love a fellow Jew as an imperative of the Torah). The mitzvah then contains within it all the limitations that the Torah places upon us; for example, the idea mentioned above not to "dilute" the Torah to make it more accessible.
We can now understand the teaching of Hillel: "Love your fellow creatures and bring them near to the Torah." Although one must have ahavas Yisrael independent of any standing or levels of observance (because of the essence and source of the soul as explained above); nevertheless, once the soul descends below, its connection to G-d is through the Torah. Therefore, one cannot suffice with ahavas Yisrael from the sole perspective of the soul's essence, but should try to bring one's fellow Jew to a full connection with G-d through the Torah, which recognizes his soul's connection here below.
A true sense of unity will only be felt if all Jews connect themselves with G-d through the Torah. If a Jew remains "distant from the Torah," one must still love him because of his essence, his essence being higher than the Torah; however, true ahavas Yisrael will bring him to a full connection with G-d, and that is accomplished by drawing him near to the Torah. Once a Jew has a connection with G-d through the Torah, his essential bond with G-d can be fully revealed.
We will now understand the difference between the sayings of Hillel and Rabbi Akiva.
Rabbi Akiva was talking about the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael that must be observed by a Jew in a body, i.e., with all the limitations and directions of the Torah. Therefore, he cannot state that ahavas Yisrael is the entire Torah for if so, it could override other rules of the Torah (just as saving a life can override all other rules) and as previously mentioned that is not the case. On the level of Torah, ahavas Yisrael is only a "great principle of the Torah" - a principle which must be carried out under the directives of the Torah.
Hillel, however, was talking about the essential level of ahavas Yisrael, where the Jew stands higher than Torah. On that level, the whole purpose of the Torah is as a means to reveal the essence of the Jew. Since a Jew's essence is revealed by the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael, it can therefore be said that it is the entire Torah and the rest is explanation; that is, that the rest of the Torah is the vehicle through which the essence of the Jew is revealed as exemplified in the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael.
(Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 17, pp. 215-224)
From the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov: one cannot estimate the amazing power of Ahavas Yisrael. Friends who together arouse heavenly mercy for another friend in distress have the power to tear up a 70-year heavenly decree. They can turn a curse into a blessing and death into long life.
(Sefer HaToldos of the Previous Rebbe, Vol. 1, p. 131)
Ahavas Yisrael was the primary "Avodah" of the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov. Each of the disciples had to acquire for himself a good friend. The Baal Shem Tov trained even the simple Jews to have Ahavas Yisrael - always to look upon another only with a favorable eye.
(Igros Kodesh of the Previous Rebbe, Vol. 3, p. 269)
So, too, in matters affecting a person's relations with his fellow, as soon as there rises from his heart to his mind any animosity or hatred, G-d forbid, or jealousy, anger, or a grudge and the like, he allows them no entrance into his mind and will. On the contrary, his mind exercises its authority and power over the feelings in his heart to do the very opposite, namely, to conduct himself towards his fellow with the quality of kindness and a display of abundant love to the extreme limits, without becoming provoked into anger, G-d forbid, or to revenge in kind, G-d forbid, but rather to repay the offenders with favors, as taught in the Zohar, that one should learn from the example of Yosef towards his brothers.
(Tanya, ch. 12)
Therefore, my beloved and dear ones, i beg of you to make an effort with all your heart and soul to drive into your heart the love for one's fellow man, as it is written (Zechariah 8:17): "And none of you should consider in your hearts that which is evil to his fellow man." Such consideration should never rise in the heart, and if it does rise, one is to push it away from the heart "As smoke is driven away" and truly like an idolatrous thought, for to speak evil is as grave as idolatry, incest, and the shedding of blood combined. if this be true of speech....; And the advantage of thought over speech, whether for the good or for the better, is already known to all the wise of heart.
(Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 23).
On the above, from Iggeres Hakodesh, ch. 23, where the Alter Rebbe writes, "Therefore, my beloved and dear ones, I beg of you to make an effort with all your heart and soul to drive into your heart the love for one's fellow man," the Tzemach Tzedek comments: "One who drives Ahavas Yisrael into his heart becomes a beloved friend of the Alter Rebbe."
(Sefer HaSichos 5704, p. 22)
The Tzemach Tzedek once said to his son the Rebbe Maharash: For one who helps another Jew in his livelihood, even if he helps him earn a mere 70 kopeks (a low-value Russian coin) on a calf, all the gates to the heavenly chambers are open for him. Years later the Rebbe Maharash added: one ought to know the route to the heavenly chambers, but actually, it is not crucial. You only need the main thing: to help another wholeheartedly, with sensitivity, and to take pleasure in doing a kindness to another. (HaYom Yom, p. 66)
The Tzemach Tzedek once said: Aleph, Beis, Gimmel, Daled. Aleph stands for Ahavah/love. Beis stands for Berachah/blessing. Gimmel stands for Gaavah/arrogance and Daled stands for Dalus/poverty. Where there is love there is blessing; where there is arrogance there is poverty.
(Igros Kodesh of the Rebbe, Vol. 4, p. 312)
The Rebbe Maharash once said: of what good is chassidus and piety if the main quality, Ahavas Yisrael, is lacking - even to the extent of causing (G-d forbid) anguish to another?
(HaYom Yom, p. 77)
Once the Rebbe Rashab instructed his son the Previous Rebbe to travel to a particular place to help a particular chassid and businessman. When the Previous Rebbe returned he told his father, "I have done everything you told me. I did the favor in the best manner possible." The Rebbe Rashab replied, "You are making a mistake. The favor you have done is a favor for yourself, not for the other. The A-lmighty has done the favor for the other; he arranged emissaries to fulfill the divine providence. The favor you have done is for yourself as it says in the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 34:10), "More than the house owner does for the poor man, the poor man does for the house owner."
(Igros Kodesh of the Previous Rebbe, Vol. 4, p. 46)
- (Back to text) See Kli Yakor on the verse "Love your fellow as yourself" for an explanation as to why the ger wished to hear the Torah standing on one foot.
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 2, p. 321, for an explanation of Shammai's conduct.
- (Back to text) See Hisvaadiyus 5744, Vol. 3, p. 1971, that "go and learn it" is a directive to go and learn how every part of the Torah is an explanation of the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael. See also Hisvaadiyus 5743, p. 50, that "go and learn" is the imperative to see continually how the individual is one part of a large body. See also Hisvaadiyus 5745, Vol. 2, p. 1193, for an alternative explanation: "Go and learn" is a promise, i.e., if one fulfills the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael properly, one will merit to learn the entire Torah which is an explanation of the mitzvah.
- (Back to text) Kedoshim 19:18, Toras Kohanim, ibid. See also Talmud Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4; Bereishis Rabbah 24:7.
- (Back to text) Superficially it would appear that it is for this reason that Rashi quotes the dictum of Rabbi Akiva and not the teaching of Hillel, because in the simple meaning of the verse it would suggest that ahavas Yisrael is indeed an important principle in the realm of mitzvos between man and man, but not the entire Torah.
It is interesting to note that Rashi, in his commentary on the Talmud in Shabbos 31a, brings two explanations of Hillel's words. Firstly, he explains (based on a verse in Mishlei 27:10) that just as you do not wish that a friend would disobey your orders, do not disobey the commands of the L-rd. In this, Hillel was drawing a parallel between human and Divine relationships: just as you would like others to listen to your words, so, too, you should listen to the words of G-d. In this light one may easily understand why this is the entire Torah and the rest explanation. Rashi then proceeds to bring a second explanation that Hillel actually meant the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael, but what he meant by the entire Torah was a reference to the majority of mitzvos such as robbery, theft, adultery, etc. (See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 17, p. 220, note 48, for further clarification of this Rashi.)
- (Back to text) Pirkei Avos 1:12. Note the expression, "Be of the disciples of Aharon..." which implies an imperative and command, not merely pious conduct. The terminology suggests that every person is empowered and has the potential to be of the students of Aharon.
The plural, "of the students...," also suggests that one should not be the sole student of Aharon, rather one should be of the students of Aharon, amongst many students who try to emulate Aharon's ways, in such a manner that invites "the jealousy of sofrim that increases knowledge" (Bava Basra 21a), i.e., that the jealousy brings him to increase in ahavas Yisrael over and above the other students. (See Sefer HaSichos 5751, Vol. II, p. 717.)
- (Back to text) Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 1, p. 261.
- (Back to text) Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 316; Vol. 15, p. 198.
- (Back to text) This is also evident from Tanya, ch. 32, where the Alter Rebbe quotes the teaching of Hillel and explains: "That is to say, that even those who are distant from the Torah ... one is required to draw them with strong ropes of love, so that perhaps one may be able to draw them near to Torah and the service of G-d." What is clear is that the purpose of "drawing them with ropes of love" is to draw them nearer to the Torah. The Alter Rebbe only then points out that even if one was not successful in drawing them nearer to Torah, one still has not lost the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael. (Note the expression "not lost" rather than the positive "has still gained," for the true aim of ahavas Yisrael is to draw them nearer to the Torah, and one may think that if one is not successful in drawing them nearer to the Torah, one has lost the mitzvah. Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 17, p. 221, note 53.)
- (Back to text) Quoted in Sefer HaSichos 5700, p. 117.
- (Back to text) Bereishis Rabbah 1:4.
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Torah, Nitzavim, Ki Karov; Rosh Hashanah, p. 59a; Shir HaShirim, 16d. See also Zohar, Vol. 3, p. 73a.
- (Back to text) Likkutei Torah, ibid. Sefer HaMaamarim 5672, Vol. 1, section 76., Vol. 3, p. 1403. Sefer HaMaamarim 5700, Oz Yoshir, ch. 3.
- (Back to text) Sanhedrin 44a.
- (Back to text) See at length Sefer HaMaamarim 5672, p. 1252.
- (Back to text) Tanya, ch. 39; Hilchos Talmud Torah of the Alter Rebbe 4:3.
- (Back to text) Through that process there is also revealed the essence of the soul as it stands higher than Torah. This is why the mitzvah of teshuvah - a mitzvah that stands higher than Torah for it has a power to compensate anything that was lacking - is also revealed in the Torah. See Sefer HaMaamarim 5666, p. 235; 5672, p. 1408.
- (Back to text) And there are some Jews whom the Torah says that we must positively hate (See Tehillim 139:22; Shabbos 116a; Tanya, ch. 32). The reason for this is that since below, their souls must connect with G-d through the Torah, and in their present state where they have cut off all connection with the Torah and have renounced all affiliation to the Torah, it is impossible that there should be a revealed level of ahavas Yisrael towards them. It should be noted that the reference here is not to those who are distant from the Torah - for they must be drawn with great love - rather this is a reference to the apikorsim, and even they must nowadays be considered as "children abducted at an early age," as explained in an earlier chapter.