Greatest Principle of Torah
Sifra Kedoshim, parasha 4

"וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י יי." ר' עקיבא אומר זה כלל גדול בתורה. בן עזאי אומר "זה ספר תולדות אדם", זה כלל גדול מזה.

And you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am יי (Lev. 19:18).

Rabbi Akiva teaches: this is the fundamental principle of Torah.

Ben Azzai teaches: this is the book of the generations of Adam, (Gen. 5:1) this principle is more fundamental.

Guiding Questions/Statements

1} What is Rabbi Akiva's opinion? Restate his principle in your own words.

2} Regarding the verse from Leviticus, what challenges do you see to making this the foundational principle to Torah?

3} What is Ben Azzai's opinion? Restate his principle in your own words.

4}Regarding the verse from Leviticus, what challenges do you see to making this the foundational principle to Torah?

5}Which opinion do you find more compelling? Why?

דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד זו היא כל התורה כולה ואידך פירושה הוא זיל גמור.

[Hillel teaches:] "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor, that is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary. Now go and study."

1}Rabbi Avraham ben David connects Hillel's teaching to Rabbi Akiva's opinion from source #1. How do you understand the relationship between the two?

2} What concrete examples can you give that embody Hillel's teaching?

3}There are two parts to Hillel's famous teaching. The second half talks about the mitzvah of studying. Is this part important? Why or why not?

(ז) בן עזאי אומר: "זה ספר תולדות אדם," זה כלל גדול בתורה.

ר' עקיבא אומר: "ואהבת לרעך כמוך," זה כלל גדול בתורה.

שלא תאמר הואיל ונתבזיתי יתבזה חבירי עמי, הואיל ונתקללתי יתקלל חבירי עמי.

אמר רבי תנחומא: אם עשית כן, דע למי אתה מבזה, בדמות אלהים עשה אותו.

(1) Ben Azzai teaches: “These are the generations of Adam" is a great principle in the Torah.

(2) Rabbi Akiva said: This is a great principle of the Torah: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

(3) Thus, one should not say, “Since I have been humiliated, I will humiliate my neighbor as well; since I have been cursed, I will curse my fellow as well.”

(4) Rabbi Tanchumah said, if you act thus, realize who it is that you are willing to have humiliated - "the one who was made in the likeness of God."

1} This source introduces two new parts to our debate. Part 3 is seen as a challenge to Rabbi Akiva. Do you agree? Why or why not?

2} What does Rabbi Tanchuma add to our debate?

(יז) וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע אֱלֹהִים֮ אֶת־ק֣וֹל הַנַּעַר֒ וַיִּקְרָא֩ מַלְאַ֨ךְ אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶל־הָגָר֙ מִן־הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וַיֹּ֥אמֶר לָ֖הּ מַה־לָּ֣ךְ הָגָ֑ר אַל־תִּ֣ירְאִ֔י כִּֽי־שָׁמַ֧ע אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶל־ק֥וֹל הַנַּ֖עַר בַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר הוּא־שָֽׁם׃

(17) And God heard the voice of the lad; God's messenger called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her: ‘What ails you, Hagar? Fear not! For God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.

(ב) באשר הוא שם. לפי מעשים שהוא עושה עכשיו הוא נדון ולא לפי מה שהוא עתיד לעשות, לפי שהיו מלאכי השרת מקטרגים ואומרים רבונו של עולם, מי שעתיד זרעו להמית בניך בצמא אתה מעלה לו באר והוא משיבם עכשיו מה הוא, צדיק או רשע, אמרו לו צדיק, אמר להם לפי מעשיו של עכשיו אני דנו וזהו באשר הוא שם...

(2) "From where he was" - (Rosh HaShanah 16) - Based on the actions that [Ishmael] is doing now, he is considered, and not according to what he will do in the future. This is because the Angels accuse him and say "Creator of the Universe! In the future his offspring will kill your sons through thirst, and you're giving him a well [to drink from]? And [G-d] replies, "now is he a righteous person or a wicked person?" [The Angels] say, "he's a righteous person." (In other words, regarding this matter, [Ishmael] isn't fitting to receive a punishment of death through thirst). [G-d] said to them, "according to the actions of a person now do I judge them....

Source #4 Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals

Act only according to that maxim that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.

1}This is Kant's second formulation of what is known as the categorical imperative. Restate it in your own words:

2} Give a concrete example that embodies what Kant is trying to say. How does it exemplify Kant's teaching?

3}With whom does Kant more closely agree Rabbi Akiva or Ben Azzai? Why do you think so?