G-d said it. Jesus said it. Gandhi said it. Along with countless others throughout history. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We all know about this famous–often slightly different–line, often called the golden rule, but do we actually know about it? Do we know what its about; what it means?
This is a tweak of the most often repeated command in the torah, “Love the stranger,” and there have been many different thoughts regarding it by the various sages and commentators of torah throughout the generations. Here I will share with you my thoughts on the subject.
There are basically two kinds of commandments: those between man and G-d, and those between man and man. The latter is also between man and G-d, as each man is a creation of the Holy One, created “b’tzalmo,” in his image. The mitzvoth (commandments) between G-d and man are important, but it would seem as if G-d is more concerned with us following those mitzvoth between man and man. I think that this is why the command to “love your neighbor,” is repeated so many times, because it all boils down to that. The great sage Hillel was asked to teach a pagan the whole torah while the man stood on one foot. Rav Hillel responded, “that which is hateful to you, do to no one. That is the whole torah, the rest is commentary, now go and learn it.” powerful and interesting words.
So, how can he say, “this is the whole torah?” Is he just being flippant; or is there a deeper meaning that we are to learn from this? It could be possible, that ALL of the mitzvoth are intended to be for the benefit of both man’s relationship to his fellow, and his relationship with G-d. In fact, I wouldn’t doubt it if somebody, in some commentary, somewhere, has said this very same thing. It seems logical to me.
-Mitzvoth between man and G-d, are meant to keep man in a spiritual plain of being, and center him around those things which are truly important in life. From giving tzedakah (charity) to the laying of tefillin (phylacteries), to the temple offerings (these days, this is taken up by prayer), these practices teach us not to value possessions over our souls, and to build a bridge and devekut (cleaving) to The Endless One.
-If man is on a spiritual plain of being, and not valuing the material over the ethereal, he is able to connect to his fellow man who may have much more–materialistically speaking–or may have less. He can also connect better with his fellow man who may have much more, or much less in a spiritual sense. In this way, there is almost a kind of socialism of thought and practice, more than a socialism (charity) of economics.
-We can conclude through this scenario, that those mitzvoth which appear to be concerned only with the relationship of man and G-d, are also a main driving force to the healthy relationship between man and his fellow.
In a strictly semantic, Torah sense, the sages tell us that the word גר-ger (stranger) refers to one who has converted to judaism, and not to all strangers. There are, in fact, many different words that refer to somebody who was or is an outsider. Since Torah was written for, and given to the children of Israel, references in it such as “a man who…” are referring to the children of Israel. This is not derisive or an expression of superiority in any way. It is similar to how US law may say–in a theoretical situation– “an immigrant who….” and it would not be singling the immigrant out as being lesser, just as an immigrant. The law would not specify, “a native born american,” because that would be understood under the language of, “a person who….” I hope this is making sense. Sometimes my thoughts make sense inside my head, but not once they come out, so I have read over this many times.
According to this teaching and understanding of torah, the command to “love the ger” is meaning to “love the immigrant to your people, who has taken upon himself the laws of your land.” This is the love whose command is repeated so many times.
This does not, however, mean that it is ok according to torah to hate others who are not a part of your people (whether born or converted). There are, in fact, more mitzvoth and halacha (jewish law) that concern the relationship between the jewish people and non-jews. There would, for example, be no way to be “or l’goyim” (a light to the nations) if hatred of them were permitted. And to further touch on the “spiritual plane” thought, perhaps there would be no way to be or l’goyim without being on a spiritual plane–if what we are to show the goyim is what G-d truly desires of people: respect and love for the world.
Since I have stated that all of the mitzvoth between man and G-d are also for the benefit of human relationship, then it seems to follow reason that all of the second category are ways in which we express love to G-d through his creations. As I said above, every person is created b’tzalmo, in his image. If the category of the first, and the category of the second are in essence expressing love to G-d, then the dictum of Hillel, “that which is hateful to you, do to nobody,” makes more sense in terms of covering the whole torah.
There is something that troubles me a little bit here, however; if we are simply not doing to others “that which is hateful” to us, are we really doing them good? Maybe this is the same type of thinking as the Latin maxim premum non nocere, “first, do no harm.” If we are not harming, at least we are not making the world worse, but we are not making it better either. Once we do something though, if we are not doing harm, we must be engaged in “good.” We must be performing acts which are ultimately beneficial to all–the main focus of all the mitzvoth!
I’m going to stop writing now, for tonight, because I’m tired and I think I’m just starting to ramble on. Let me know what you think of this and other blog posts in the comments section below, if you please. I am new to blogging, and find it to be quite therapeutic to be able to get my thoughts out (so I would probably even blog if only a type of diary), but I would like to be able to morph my style and content into a more interesting version of itself.
Shalom, salaam, forever.