Kedoshim – About Love your Neighbor as Yourself

The cornerstone Parashat Kedoshim (holy in plural), in my opinion, is a single verse, actually only 5 words of it; it is Leviticus 19:18:

וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י יְקֹוָֽה׃

“Love your fellow [Israelite] as yourself: I am Adonai” is the translation you will find in Sefaria.  I checked more than 25 other translations to English, and they basically are identical: they use the word neighbor for fellow.  One translation says “fellow man”, another refers to “friend” while the Contemporary English Version says “I am the LORD, and I command you to love others as much as you love yourself.”

Rabbi Akiva refers to this verse as [Heb.: “Klal gadol Batorah”] “this is a great rule in Torah.  Probably he meant that this verse IS THE Major rule in Torah.  Hillel held the same position.  The story of a non-Jew that came to him to study the whole Torah while standing on one foot is well known.  He said: “”That which is hateful to you, don’t do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; now go and study”.

Rabbi Akiva’s student and contemporary, Rabbi Ben Azahy, countered his teacher and claimed that verse Genesis 5:1 IS THE Major rule in Torah:  “this is the record [chronicles] of Adam [mankind]: the day Elohim [God] created humankind, He made him [humankind] in the likeness [image] of Elohim [God].”

Who of the two is correct?

We will try to address this question a little later…  for now, let us get back to the verse itself.

It is my honor to share with you – less the non-relevant portions – my correspondence with Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of Blessed Memory on this very issue:

Shalom Rabbi Sacks,

I read your latest D’var on the Diaspora week’s Parasha and would like to offer a thought.

you compared the verse in this Parasha (Ve’Ahavtah LeRe’acha Kamochah ani HaShem) to the one in Deuteronomy, the first portion of the Shma (Ve’Ahavta et Hashem Eloheichah). there is a small difference, but in my humble opinion a huge one, yet they are both connected.

I’d translate the verse in Leviticus to: “you shall love TO your fellow human as yourself I am HaShem”.  The verse in Deuteronomy misses the TO.  Sforno and Ibn-Ezra comments on the verse in Leviticus suggest that the TO means by action, and not just a mere feeling.  That is, the love to the fellow (I refer to the רע – fellow human being – as the widest definition of Adam; the difference between ADAM and Re’ah is that a Re’ah is ADAM that one has any kind of relationship with.)

Since we are all created in the image, and walk in the shadow of Elohim, all of us have the spark of the Divine in us, our love of God is manifested by our love TO other human beings.

And as you have mentioned in your D’var, several verses later, we are commanded – with almost the exact same words – to love TO the Ger.  In my opinion, it just re-emphasizes the general meaning of the Re’ah.

With utmost respect,

(To Be Rabbi) Emanuel Ben-David,

To which Rabbi Sacks responded:

Dear To-be-Rabbi – for which I offer my blessings and best wishes,

Thank you so much for your very well taken point about Ibn Ezra’s and Sforno’s emphasis on the Lamed of le-reakha.

Your interpretation of this is very beautiful indeed.

May you, in your new role, teach much and inspire many!

With blessings and best wishes,

Rabbi Sacks

You may wonder why Sefaria added in parenthesis the limiting definition of fellow to Israelites only.  Well, many commentators and sages did make this fence, basing it on the reference to “your own people” just before these words in the very same verse, and to the understanding that if one has to love another as oneself, the subject of that love cannot be one who is very different, such as a non-Jew.

Rabbi Ḥayyim Vital, the one that transcribed the teachings of the ARI HaKadosh – Rabbi Itzḥak Luria, the Kabbalist from Tzfat, said: “it is worthy to the Ḥasid [the pious, righteous, generous] to love all human beings, including the non-Jews”.

Rabbi Eliahu Ben Amozeg concluded that if Torah meant that the verse applies to Jews only, it would use the term “Bnei Amekha (the children of your own people)” instead of “Re-akha – fellow”.  Since it uses the term Re-akha – it means any kind of human being.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzḥak HaCohen Kook, was the first Chief Rabbi in Eretz Yisrael (decades before the establishment of the State).  He said after the massacre of 69 Jews in Hebron in 1929: “we wish to fulfill this Mitzvah not just vis-à-vis individuals, but also towards all nations”.

In support of Rabbi Kook’s approach (not that he needs my support…) I would quote Proverbs 24:17: “If your enemy falls, do not exult; If he trips, let your heart not rejoice”.

I guessing that the above discussion provides adequate support to the broader interpretation of whom should we love TO.

And it also helps us to solve the debate between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Ben Azahy.  These two verses are actually complementing each other.  The verse in Leviticus tells us what to act vis-à-vis the other, and the verse in Genesis defines who is the other: every human being.

Let me now take a short detour; it will converge to our topic very soon.

The Talmud teaches us that (Bava Metzia 58b:12)

כֹּל הַמַלְבִּין פְּנֵי חֲבֵרוֹ בְּרַבִּים כְּאִילוּ שׁוֹפֵךְ דָמִים

I’d translate it as: “Anyone who whitens the face of another in public it is as shedding bloods.”  When someone is humiliated in public one becomes pale, the blood flows away from one’s face.   Humiliating someone in public equals to spilling the blood of the humiliated person. 

The Talmud tells us that humiliating someone in public equals to murdering that person.  The Talmud continues the discussion regarding the severity of this transgression.  It is listed as one of three transgressions that cannot be redeemed and the soul committed that is destined to be in Geyhinom [hell] eternally.

Question:  supposed you overhear one saying to a friend: “I bought that item, and I really jewed her down”.  How would you feel?

Another one: what is a shikse? Do you know what is the origin?

[this is a Yiddish word that means a non-Jew female.  It originated in the Hebrew word SHEKETZ – which means detested thing, abomination, loathed]

Would you consider the term goy to be derogatory?  And how about gentile?

It is not the way we intend to use these words nor the context in which these words are used.  It is the way the active or passive listener perceives and interprets our words that matters.

The Talmud suggests how to express love to our fellow human beings as an expression of our love to God.  How, than,  should we call our neighbors, those who we have any kind of relationship with – including our enemies?

May I suggest to use the term non-Jew?

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