The world around us has changed a great deal in the span of just a few months, and as we search for those forces that will comfort and sustain us, love is an important component. It may be love and appreciation for those close to us, or a love filled with longing for those who are far away. We may be focusing on how to bring love into our perspective on the world as large, or into our conversations with those with whom we disagree but do not want to distance.

Possibly Judaism's most famous rule, from the book of Leviticus, is about love.

(יח) לֹֽא־תִקֹּ֤ם וְלֹֽא־תִטֹּר֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֽה׃
(18) You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD.

When this idea is quoted casually, it is often taken to mean that you should love every other person. That is a beautiful idea...and extremely difficult to enact in practice. Throughout the generations, scholars who read and commented on the Torah recognized this, and looked for ways to translate this idea into something more manageable and more actionable. Here is what Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, a 19th century scholar, had to say:

ואהבת לרעך כמוך. א״א לפרש כמשמעו כידוע דחייך קודם לחיי חבירך אלא הרמב״ם פי׳ בהל׳ אבל פי״ד כמו שאתה חפץ מחברך. והדבר מובן שלא יסכל האדם שחבירו יאהבהו כמו נפש עצמו אלא בגדר הראוי לפי הקורבה וד״א. באותו אופן עליך לאהוב בני אדם. ולפי זה הפי׳ קאי בסמיכות לאזהרה הקודמת שכמו שאתה חפץ אם עשית רעה לאדם שלא ינקום ממך אלא יעבור על פשעך כך תנהג עם רעך...

It is impossible to explain this literally, as it is known that your life takes precedence over the life of another. However, Maimonides in the Laws of Mourning..explains that it means as you would wish for another to do for you. This is understandable, as one would not be foolish enough to think that another person will love them as much as they love themselves, but rather only as is appropriate based on how close they are and derekh eretz (what is natural). In the same way, one must love other people.

Using this explanation, the juxtaposition with the previous admonition makes sense: Just as you would not want someone to take revenge on you if you wrong another person, but rather you would want them to forgive you, this is how you should behave with your fellow.

Rabbi Berlin is just being honest. It is impossible to love others as much as you love yourself, and it is unnatural to expect us to love all people equally (in fact, not everyone is even on the same page in terms of self-love, but that's a topic for another time!). Instead, Rabbi Berlin argues, the commandment is telling us to act with love towards others. Love is a lens through which to view the world, and a standard we can use to measure the way we treat others.

Other Sefaria Resources:

Loving God and Loving Ourselves, by the Global Day of Jewish Learning

Greatest Principle of Torah, by Rabbi Meir Goldstein

Family: How Do We Communicate our Love? by Vanessa Averbach

Find more resources by typing "love" into Sefaria's search bar, and check out the topics page #love for even more resources!