“Love your fellow as yourself” this is the fundamental principle of the Torah.

Rabbi Akiva

This is one of the most famous mitzvos in the Torah and, according to Sages like Rabbi Akiva and Hillel the Elder, the most all encompassing concept that speaks to the heart of all other mitzvos.

And since we talk about it so much, we’ve got this mitzvah down pat.

We believe in helping the unfortunate with charity. Helping our friends when they need a little extra support. Spending time with our family so they feel our love. That’s what loving your fellow is all about, isn’t it?

But if we look a little closer, we notice that we’ve been cutting out half the verse whenever we quote this mitzvah. The full verse goes like this:

You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbour as yourself. I am Hashem.

Vayikra 19:18

Why is all this revenge and grudge holding stuff in there with our favourite mitzvah?

The Ohr HaChaim explains this verse as one story with three possible outcomes. If someone wrongs you (like, he was clearly being an unprovoked jerk), you might want to do the same thing back to him. But that would be revenge, so don’t do that.

Or you might be a bit better than that and be nice to him, but let him know “I’m being nice, unlike how you have acted in the past.” But that would be holding a grudge, so don’t do that either.

Rather, says the Torah, you should look at this jerk who wronged you and you should LOVE him like you love yourself.

That’s right. The “fellow” that the Torah tells us to love as ourself is not just our family, or our friend, or even some stranger we’ve never met. It’s the person who we think we are in full rights to hate because of what he has done to us.

How is this possible? How is it even logical that we be SO open hearted?

The Ohr HaChaim answers that with the final words of that very same verse. He says that all of our souls are branches of the Holy Name of God.

We are all connected. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face, rather love every part of your people. Because we are all in this together.

Love your fellow as yourself. Every fellow. Because he too, is a part of your greater self.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi A and the JET Team