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Loving every Jew- questions on biblical terms for brotherhoo


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Kislev 30, 5774
Dear Rabbi, one part of Vayikra 19:17 is "ve’ahavta l’reacha kamocha". My question is: How should we understand the the word "reacha"? Does it mean every Jew? Could it also include non-Jews in an explicit sense (I’m asking because there have been attempts by christians to paint this verse in such a way that it would refer to non-Jews). Can a non-jew ever be a "re’acha" in the sense of the verse? Is there a connection of the word "reacha" to ro’e (shephard) or animals in a herd? I have also wondered about the letters of the word, because ’resh-ayin" are the same exact letters as in ’evil’. Can there possibly be a connection (in the sense that perhaps that the fellow in question (re’a) also harbors among many good traits also some bad thoughts,but nevertheless he is our brother) The verse speaks of "Achicha", "Amitecha", "Bnei Amecha" and "Reacha". Are these different facets of our fellow Jews? (That they have all of these roles/relations to us) Thank you very, very much.
Shalom Ronald and Happy Chanuka! In general, the Torah addresses herself to the natural situation of the Nation of Israel living in the State of Israel in the Land of Israel. Accordingly, all of the mitzvot between man and his fellow, are geared towards your Jewish brother, because he is the one who is around us and preoccupies us, and this is the explanation of the Oral Law as passed down for 130generations and 3300 years. The term re’ah is found for example throughout Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs, as the term for the “beloved” (girlfriend, in feminine, ra’aya), and is clearly meant as an especially endearing term, reserved for especially close friends. Although it’s difficult to befriend each and every person, the super-moral code of the Torah obligates us to find a way to endear to each and every Jewish brother and sister. Just as all parents unconditionally love their child, no matter what. Yes, the word re’ah (dear friend) and ro’eh (shepherd) are probably connected, see for example Sam. II, 15, 37, where David’s closest friend is also his advisor, similar to a shepherd who leads and guides (compare with the parallel pasuk in Chron. I, 27, 33, re’ah-re’eh). The shepherd is one who leads others out of love, as does a true friend who one can rely upon and trust. It’s not a coincidence that most of our forefathers were shepherds (as opposed to say, artisans or farmers), including Avraham, Ya’akov, Moshe and David, for shepherding teaches us how to guide with friendship and firmness, as is proper for any good friendship where each builds the other. You are correct that it’s not coincidental that the word for a good friend and a bad person are from similar roots (ra and re’ah). There are hundreds, if not thousands of examples in Hebrew of words which mean something and its opposite (like kaless (praise-mock), pnim-panim (internal-external), nikar-nechar (known-foreign) and many more. Even closer examples are lechem-lachem (life sustenance-war) amit- umat (friend-opposition). This apparently confusing phenomenon (where you can often tell the meaning only from the context) in the G-dly language of Hebrew, comes to teach us some very important lessons: a. that almost anything can be used for good or bad, and it depends on our free-will, which one we choose; b. sentences (especially in the Torah) are meant to be examined well and not read superficially. It’s also very observant of you to notice the 4 different nicknames used for fellow Jews within those 2 verses. For the meaning of this, see the commentary of R. S.R. Hirsch and others on 19, 17. I'm not familiar with your background, but am truly impressed by your insights (especially if you arrived at them on your own), and strongly suggest you to continue developing your perceptive study of Torah, for you clearly seem to have an affinity and skill for it! Keep it up! With Love of Torah and Israel, Rav Ari Shvat
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