Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Kdoshim
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Nisan 27 5779
"And you shall love your fellow as yourself." Said Rabbi Akiva – this is the great & essential maxim of the Torah.

There are no less than 51 Mitzvot in our Sedra of Kedoshim – the fifth largest number of commandments in any of the parshiyot of the Torah. All of them contribute, in one way or another, to Hashem’s ambitious challenge to the Jewish People: "Be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy."

But it’s not enough just to command someone to "be holy," because holiness is such a difficult term to define. Does it mean spiritually pure, or special, or designated for a unique mission? All of those fit, but G-d chose rather to instruct us as to the path to holiness, via His Mitzvot. And so we have laws that cover charity, honesty, proper ways to worship, moral treatment of others, ritual observances & sexual prohibitions, laws of kashrut, love of the Land of Israel & so much more.

But Rabbi Akiva looked at all these manifold Mitzvot, & synthesized them into one, over-arching principle: Love your fellow as yourself. But how do we accomplish that? Can we ever really love another person as much as we love ourself? In fact, Jewish law dictates that self-preservation is an essential, acceptable principle, so when we have the chance to save ourselves – even if that means another person may not survive – we have every right to do so. For example, if two people are in the desert and one has a canteen with just enough water to survive, Rabbi Akiva rules that he need not share it with the other person, because his own life takes precedence (Bava Metzia 62).

But I want to suggest that Hashem is sending us another message. First, He is telling us that loving oneself is not vain, it is an essential part of recognizing our worth & appreciating that we are G-d’s greatest creation. At the same time, we have to love others in the same way that we love ourselves. We know that we have flaws & faults, that we are not perfect, that we make mistakes & often go astray. And yet, we still love ourselves! We look in the mirror each morning & say, "Yes, even with my faults, I’m still a pretty good person! I’m still going to eat breakfast, go to work, enjoy myself!"

That is precisely the way we should react to others. Sure, they have their flaws, they are not perfect. But instead of denigrating & dismissing them, we should give them the same slack we give ourselves – every single day.

This is a tremendous challenge, because human nature prods us to be much more critical of others than we are of ourselves. The answer: Accept the next person as readily as we accept ourselves, in the hope that he or she will do the very same thing. And then we’ll all feel the love.
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