Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Mordehi ben Baruch z"l

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself – Unity and Uniqueness

We all possess something in common with Adam. Adam contained within himself all of his offspring. Still, he was created as an individual and the world was created for him alone. Exclusiveness and unity find expression in each of his descendants.


Rabbi Chaim Katz

2 min read
1. Introduction
2. "Re'akhah" - Also Applicable to the Almighty
3. The Common Ground Shared by "Ra'" and "Re'eh"
4. Divine Countenance or "All of Us as One"
5. "Love Your Neighbor as Yourself" or "The World Was Created for Me"
6. Hence, Another Fundamental Point

The Mishnah (Horayot 3:7-8) provides us with an order of priority regarding the Torah's exhortation, "Do not stand still when your neighbor's life is in danger" (Leviticus 19:16).

According to the Mishnah:
"Men take priority over women when saving life and when retrieving a lost article; women take priority over men with regard to providing clothing and redeeming from hostage. In a situation where both of them stand to be defiled, a man takes priority over a woman. A priest takes priority over a Levi, a Levi over an Israelite, an Israelite over a Mamzer (illegitimate offspring), a Mamzer over a Natin (descendant of the Gibeonites), a Natin over a convert, and a convert over a freed slave. When is this the case? When all of them are equal. However, where there is a Mamzer Torah scholar and ignorant High Priest, the Mamzer Torah scholar takes priority over the ignorant High Priest."

The orders of preference for the various matters brought in the Mishnah apply "when all of them are equal." Where, however, somebody has a spiritual advantage over the others, he is given preference. The Talmud (op. cit. 13a) cites the source for this ruling:
"R' Acha said in the name of R' Chanina, "The verse states, 'She is dearer than pearls.' (Proverbs 3;15).

According to its plain meaning, the verse is referring to the Torah. >From here we may say that, simply speaking, the reason that a Mamzer Torah scholar takes priority over an ignorant High Priest is that by saving the Torah scholar one in fact saves the Torah itself, which, as stated, is "dearer than pearls."

There is, however, an alternate way of understanding the Talmud's logic. The essence of the law to save life is actually derived from the verse, "Do not stand still when your neighbor's life is in danger," and from it the sages arrive at the order of preference for saving life. According to this understanding, preference for a Mamzer Torah scholar is discernible in the words of the verse itself.
It is written "Re'ekhah" (your neighbor); there are varying levels in the delineation of who is more "your neighbor," and who is less. What makes the Gemara's stance unique with regard to preference of the Mamzer Torah scholar, is the implication that, unlike the apparently fixed hierarchy presented in the Mishnah, application of the term "Re'ekhah" is relative. What this comes down to is that one must show preference for the life of a person who is most "Re'ekhah."

"Re'akhah" - Also Applicable to the Almighty
An additional point which must be considered appears in Rashi's commentary to tractate Shabbat. There (31a), the Talmud records the well-known anecdote of the Gentile who accosts Shammai and Hillel respectively and requests to be converted to Judaism on the condition that they teach him "all of the Torah on one foot":
"Once, a Gentile came before Shammai and said to him, 'Convert me on the condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot.' Shammai pushed him away with the measuring rod which he was holding. When he came before Hillel, the sage converted him. Hillel said to him, 'That which is undesirable to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the entire Torah. The rest is just commentary – go learn."

In the words of Hillel, "That which is undesirable to you, do not do to your fellow ("Chaverkha")," Rashi comments,
"[First explanation:] 'Do not abandon your neighbor and the neighbor of your father' (Proverbs 27) – This (i.e., "the neighbor") refers to the Almighty. Do not violate His words, for it is undesirable to you that your neighbor violate your words. Second explanation: Your genuine neighbor, for example, theft, robbery, adultery, and most of the commandments."

To posit that "Re'ekha" refers to God is a radical assertion, and Rashi interprets the text of the Gemara according to the verse in Proverbs. The Gemara also explains that "your fellow" refers to God. Rashi here applies that which is learned from the Book of Proverbs – that the Almighty is called "Re'ekha." What are the implications of this?

The Common Ground Shared by "Ra'" and "Re'eh"
In the Song of Songs we find the verse, "Thou art all fair my beloved one; there is no blemish in thee" (4:7). Israel is referred to as God's beloved one ("Raaya"). What is concealed in the words "Re'eh" and "Chaver"?

At first glance the matter seems both puzzling and preposterous. The word "Re'eh" comprises the Hebrew letters "Resh" and "Ayin," letters which also form the word "Ra," which means evil. How can this paradox be reconciled?

"When you take a census of the Israelites to determine their numbers..." (Exodus 30:12). The Torah here commands a census of the the Israelites. The commentators explain that there are two ways of counting – counting the parts in order to arrive at the whole, or, the opposite, counting the parts as derivatives of the whole, ingredients of the whole that comprise the integral elements of one consummate unit.

The word "Ra'," as in the verse, "Thou shalt break them ("Tero'em," from the Hebrew root "Ra'") with an iron rod" (Psalms 2:9), implies something crushed and broken. To visit evil upon a person means breaking him, to take something whole and dismantle it. Evil, by its very nature, is divisive and partial.

What is the meaning of "Re'eh" on the other hand? Here too we are dealing with a part. According to Jewish mysticism, "Israel, God, and the Torah are one." An aspect of unity bonds Israel, the Torah, and the Almighty, rendering the three a single integral whole. There is, though, another aspect wherein Israel is seen as a single unit - "My sister, my beloved one ("Raayati")," "Love your neighbor ("Re'akhah") as yourself," "Do not stand still when your neighbor's ("Re'ekhah") life is in danger."
The first half of the succeeding verse reads, "Do not hate your brother (Achikha) in your heart" (Leviticus 19:17). The term brother "Akh" does not possess degrees. He is your brother because he is your brother. "Re'eh," however, has varying degrees. The order of priority in saving life is based upon the verse, "Do not stand still when your neighbor's ("Re'ekhah") life is in danger" and from here stem the varying levels of preference.

There is an aspect of "all are one" - Israel, God, and the Torah – and there is a side wherein the People of Israel viewed as a independent unit. There are varying levels between "Achoti" and "Raayati." Even the Almighty - "Your neighbor, and the neighbor of your father" - appears, as it were, as a part, separate from Israel.

>From what do the varying levels with regard to the term "Re'eh" emanate? The more that each part becomes a more integral part of the whole, the more it becomes "Re'eh." The less that a part embodies the whole, the less it is seen as "Re'eh." Unlike "Ra," the varying levels of "Re'eh" derive from the part's embodiment of the whole.

"Whoever has a sick person in his house should go to a Torah scholar and request [that he pray for] his mercy" (Baba Batra 116a). Why a Torah scholar and not a righteous man? After all, the sages teach that when the righteous decree, God fulfills. Rabbi Shapira explains that when a person is visited by illness he faces judgment. This is in keeping with the teaching of the sages, that the Divine Presence rests above the head of the sick. Such a person, is therefore in need of a "good lawyer." It follows that it is a Torah scholar that needs to be consulted and not a saint.

In light of what we said earlier, we may understand the above advice in an alternate manner: a Torah scholar, according to the text in tractate Horayot (which gives preference to a Mamzer Torah scholar over a High Priest ignoramus) is defined as one who had acquired Torah, regarding which it is written, "It does not go unanswered" (Berakhot 8a).

Precisely in this regard the Gemara evokes the verse, "She is dearer than pearls" when comparing a Mamzer Torah scholar to an ignorant High Priest: The Hebrew word for pearls is "Pninim," which can also mean "inside." This can be interpreted as referring to the service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur, which takes place in the innermost sacred chamber of the Temple. Though this holy ceremony is the peak of communal worship, the Torah is more precious.
The Torah is even more dear than he who himself embodies the entire Jewish people. A person who has acquired Torah - the kind of Torah that relates to the entire Jewish people ("Klal Israel") and is hence the highest possible level of Torah (and there is no greater "Re'eh" than this) – such a person is a "part" which embodies Israel's prime.

Divine Countenance or "All of Us as One"
In the final blessing of the Amidah prayer, we request, "Bless us our Father, all of us as one, with the light of Your countenance." Liturgical commentators address the unique wording of this benediction - "All of us as one." We make many requests in the course of our prayers, but only here, when asking for God's personal benignancy, do we underscore the matter of being "one." Why?

The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:5) relates:
"Adam was created as an individual in order to teach us that whoever puts an end to even a single Jewish life is looked upon as if he had put an end to an entire world. Alternatively, whoever sustains a single Jewish life is looked upon as if he had sustained an entire world."

The fact that the Adam was created as an individual teaches us that each of us must consider himself as if he were the primordial man. On the other hand, we say in our prayers, "Bless us our Father, all of us as one" because we are all the progeny of the first man; all of us together are a single united body. At the same time, as noted, a person must feel as if the entire world was created for him; whoever puts an end to even a single life is looked upon as if he had put an end to an entire world.

These two vistas appear to contradict one another. On the one hand, all of us together are the children of the Adam; on the other, each individual is unique and for him the entire world was created. How does the uniqueness of each individual find expression?
We can answer that just as people's countenances differ, so do their opinions differ. It is possible to identify a person by his facial features, for they differ from those of everybody else. Similarly, their opinions are disparate. A person's countenance reveals the fact that he is unique and different.

The verse in Psalms (80:20) reads, "Cause Your countenance to shine upon us and and we will be saved" and the Midrash remarks, "We have but Your loving countenance alone." What is the meaning of this?

To begin with, when one requests to be blessed with the light of countenance, this implies a call for the bestowal of uniqueness. Countenance, by its very nature, individualizes and does not generalize, therefore it is important that this, of all benedictions, punctuate the matter of "all of us as one" - the aspect of unity.

"Love Your Neighbor as Yourself" or "The World Was Created for Me"
There is an additional point that should be made here. Ramban (Nachmanides), in his Torah commentary, writes (Leviticus 19:17):
"The purpose of the precept to love your neighbor as yourself is exaggeration, for man's heart is unable to love his fellow to the extent that he loves himself. In addition, Rabbi Akiva has already taught, 'your life takes precedence over the life of your fellow'" (Baba Metzia 62).

Two reasons are brought here: (a) the Torah exaggerates, and (b) Rabbi Akiva taught that the law is that "your life takes precedence." How, then, does one fulfill this commandment? What is its significance? Ramban continues:
"The Torah commands a person to love his fellow in every matter as he loves himself, with all goodness. Perhaps this is the reason that [literally] it is not written, 'Love your neighbor ("Re'akha") as yourself, but rather... "Love to your neighbor (" Le -Re'akha") as yourself," for such (i.e., the latter) implies rendering equal the love of the two of them in his mind. For sometimes a person will love his neighbor in known affairs, providing him with riches, but not with wisdom and similar matters. But if he were to love him in all respects, he would desire that his beloved neighbor merit riches, property, honor, understanding, and wisdom. He would not merely wish that his neighbor become equal to him; rather, he would desire with all of his heart that his neighbor forever possess more goodness than he. And the verse commands that he not possess in his heart even a modicum of jealousy for him. Rather, he must take great pleasure in the fact of his neighbor's profuse goodness, as one does for himself, not putting any limits to his love."

Nevertheless, there remains some difficulty, for, according to the plane meaning of the verse, the implication is literally "as you love yourself." How, then, can we understand this to be an exaggeration?

The commentators explain that this matter is connected to the Mishnah which states that "a person must say, 'The world was created for me.'" We are all progeny of Adam. As such, we all possess something intrinsically in common with Adam. Adam also contained within himself all of his offspring. At the same time, he was created as an individual and the world was created for him alone. These two essential aspects, exclusiveness and unity, find expression in each of his descendants.

Another question which arises is, what is the meaning of the expression, "The world was created for me"? After all, when all is said and done, nobody lives forever, and the world persists in accordance with the laws of nature.

The answer is that death originates with Adam's original sin. As a result of this transgression, there was a diminishing of our ability to be cognizant of the idea that "the world was created for me," the implication of which is that life is eternal. "The light of countenance" - the fact that the countenances of man are different serves as a miniature and reduced proof of man's uniqueness. We believe that death is temporary. Life is undying and death is necessary in a world of sin. We believe that there will be a remedy to this illness. The present reality does not allow us to tangibly recognize that "for me the world was created," yet we believe that such a concept exists, even if cognizance of its existence is lacking. The sages' statement and our faith in this premise stand firm.

Where do we find a similar principle? In the words of the Gemara (Pesachim 14:9) where it expounds upon the verse, "On that day, God will be One, and his name will be One" (Zacharia 14:9):
"The World to Come is unlike this world. [In] this world [God's name] is written with the Hebrew letters Yod and Heh, but is read as if it were written with the letters Alef and Dalet; in the World to Come, however, it is one: it is read with Yod and Heh, and it is written with Yod and Heh."

On that day, when the world has achieved a state of perfection, God's name will be read in the same manner that it is written.

The Mishnah teaches that upon receiving good tidings, a Jew recites the blessing, "Blessed is the Good and Beneficent One"; on receiving sad news, though, one pronounces, "Blessed is the True Judge" (Berakhot 9:2).
There is presently a distinction between good and evil in the world, and hence in our benedictions. We are not capable of grasping the goodness of God's ways in all. In the World to Come, we will recite, "Blessed is the Good and Beneficent One" over both, as the Gemara itself explains (ad loc.):
"R' Acha the son of Chanina said: 'This world is unlike the World to Come: in this world, upon receiving good tidings, a Jew recites, "Blessed is the Goodly and Beneficent One," while upon receiving unfortunate news, one pronounces, "Blessed is the True Judge"; in the World to Come, everything is "Blessed is the Goodly and Beneficent One."

This is the same basic distinction: in a world of death and sin, before rectification, it is impossible to understand everything. Even where we understand that everything which God does is for the best, it is impossible to pronounce "Blessed is the Goodly and Beneficent One" over everything. We are not on a level which permits us to do so. "On that day" it will be possible to bless "the Goodly and Beneficent One" even over those matters which appear to be negative, for it will be possible to tangibly recognize the good therein.

This is the plane meaning of Nachmanides' words: "The purpose of the precept to love your neighbor as yourself is exaggeration." A person cannot accept loving his fellow exactly as he loves himself. Our situation in this world does not permit recognition of the fact that "All of us are the sons of one father" (cf. Genesis 42:11), in the same sense that it is impossible to grasp that "the world was created for me."
Death covers over the fact that we are united, and as a result it is possible to say regarding each of us that the world was created for him. It is similarly difficult to grasp the fact that each of us are the offspring of one individual, and therefore man cannot accept upon himself to love his fellow as himself, and so, "your life takes precedence over the life of your fellow."
From here stems the practical law, which differentiates between blessings over good and bad tidings, for here there is still not full and complete recognition. It is not enough to merely believe that we are all the progeny of one father – this recognition belongs to a level whereupon there is no death.

Hence, Another Fundamental Point
The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni Shir HaShirim 4:988) expounds upon the verse in Song of Songs(4:5),
"Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle..." : "These two breasts are two tablets and upon them are the Ten Commandments, five on one tablet and five on the other."

What is meant by this interpretation? The Ten Commandments contain five commandments that focus on relations between man and God and five commandments that focus upon relations between man and his fellow man, and these two parts befit each other, like two twins of a gazelle. In light of what we have said, it is possible to offer a deeper understanding: insofar as God's relationship with the world is concerned, when it comes to the belief that whatever God does is for the best, a distinction must be drawn between our present plight and our plight in the future.
The fact that we are or are not on one of these levels has repercussions as far as practical law is concerned – as we have seen with the blessings. The same problem exists regarding commandments between man and his fellow man, which have their beginning in the verse "love your neighbor as yourself." In this arena too, there is a gap between the belief that "the world was created for me" and "we are all the sons of one person" on the one hand, and the actual cognition of these premises on the other.
These two elements – the commandments between man and God and those between man and his fellow man - are influenced by the sin of Adam. They are influenced by the existence of death in the world. In each of them we hope to reach a situation of "God is One and His name is One," in which it is recognizable that everything which God does is for the best and that "we are all the sons of one person" with the uniqueness of each individual and the unity of all of us together.

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