If I Don't Like Them How Can I Love Them?: A Deeper Look at וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ (mekorot)

If you had to sum up of all Judaism in a sentence, which mitzvot would you include? You would likely say mitzvot such as believe in Hashem, do not steal, and do not murder.

(יא) לֹ֖א תִּגְנֹ֑בוּ וְלֹא־תְכַחֲשׁ֥וּ וְלֹֽא־תְשַׁקְּר֖וּ אִ֥ישׁ בַּעֲמִיתֽוֹ׃ (יב) וְלֹֽא־תִשָּׁבְע֥וּ בִשְׁמִ֖י לַשָּׁ֑קֶר וְחִלַּלְתָּ֛ אֶת־שֵׁ֥ם אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ אֲנִ֥י ה'׃ (יג) לֹֽא־תַעֲשֹׁ֥ק אֶת־רֵֽעֲךָ֖ וְלֹ֣א תִגְזֹ֑ל לֹֽא־תָלִ֞ין פְּעֻלַּ֥ת שָׂכִ֛יר אִתְּךָ֖ עַד־בֹּֽקֶר׃ (יד) לֹא־תְקַלֵּ֣ל חֵרֵ֔שׁ וְלִפְנֵ֣י עִוֵּ֔ר לֹ֥א תִתֵּ֖ן מִכְשֹׁ֑ל וְיָרֵ֥אתָ מֵּאֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ אֲנִ֥י ה'׃ (טו) לֹא־תַעֲשׂ֥וּ עָ֙וֶל֙ בַּמִּשְׁפָּ֔ט לֹא־תִשָּׂ֣א פְנֵי־דָ֔ל וְלֹ֥א תֶהְדַּ֖ר פְּנֵ֣י גָד֑וֹל בְּצֶ֖דֶק תִּשְׁפֹּ֥ט עֲמִיתֶֽךָ׃ (טז) לֹא־תֵלֵ֤ךְ רָכִיל֙ בְּעַמֶּ֔יךָ לֹ֥א תַעֲמֹ֖ד עַל־דַּ֣ם רֵעֶ֑ךָ אֲנִ֖י ה'׃ (יז) לֹֽא־תִשְׂנָ֥א אֶת־אָחִ֖יךָ בִּלְבָבֶ֑ךָ הוֹכֵ֤חַ תּוֹכִ֙יחַ֙ אֶת־עֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ וְלֹא־תִשָּׂ֥א עָלָ֖יו חֵֽטְא׃ (יח) לֹֽא־תִקֹּ֤ם וְלֹֽא־תִטֹּר֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י ה'׃

(11) You shall not steal; you shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another. (12) You shall not swear falsely by My name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD. (13) You shall not defraud your fellow. You shall not commit robbery. The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning. (14) You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God: I am the LORD. (15) You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kinsman fairly. (16) Do not deal basely with your countrymen. Do not profit by the blood of your fellow: I am the LORD. (17) You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kinsman but incur no guilt because of him. (18) You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD.

Q: What is love? An action? An emotion? If love is an emotion, does it seem fair for Hashem to command us to feel this love? Is it really possible to love someone to the extent that you love yourself? What do you think the Torah is truly commanding us to do?

(ב) ואהבת לרעך כמוך. אָמַר רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא זֶה כְּלָל גָּדוֹל בַּתּוֹרָה (ספרא):
(2) ואהבת לרעך כמוך THOU SHALT LOVE THY FELLOW MAN AS THYSELF —Rabbi Akiba said: “This is a fundamental principle of the Torah” (Sifra, Kedoshim, Chapter 4 12; Talmud Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:3).

Q: Why do you think Rabbi Akiva believes that this is the fundamental principle of the Torah?


(ה) ואהבת לרעך כמוך אם תעשה כן תאהבהו, והלמ״‎ד בו יתרה, דוגמא לכל חיל פרעה, לכל כליו תעשה נחשת. ד״‎א אינו אומר ואהבת לרעך כמוך. דאי אפשר לעשות כן אלא לרעך, פירוש ואהבת לעשות לו טובה כמו שאתה אוהב שיעשה הוא לך. דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד. וכן תפרש גבי והגר הגר אתכם ואהבת לו כמוך.

An alternate interpretation: the Torah was careful not to write ואהבת רעך כמוך “love your fellowman as you love yourself,” as this is something impossible for human beings to do. It is however, possible to love things that belong to your fellow human being as much as you love the things that are your own. You are to put yourself mentally into the position of your fellow human being, and therefore not to do anything to him that you would not have others do to you. By the same token you should love as much to do favours for him as you would have others do favours for you. The same interpretation also applies to verse 34 in our chapter where we are asked to love the convert to Judaism כמוך, “just like yourself.”

(1) The phrase “Love your neighbor as yourself” cannot be meant literally, since man cannot be expected to love his neighbor as himself. Moreover, Rabbi Akiva has ruled that “Your life comes first.” The Torah here enjoins us that we should wish upon our neighbor the same benefits that we wish upon ourselves. Perhaps, this is the reason for the dative instead of the accusative form of the verb phrase; we find the same in “And you shall love him as yourself” (19:34). Indeed, sometimes a person may wish upon his neighbor certain benefits, but only wealth, not wisdom and the like. But even if he wishes his cherished friend well in everything, i.e. wealth, honor, learning, and wisdom, he will not do so unstintingly; he will still insist on a larger share of the benefits. It is this shortcoming that the Torah condemned. Rather, a man should wish his fellow well in everything, just as he does in his own case, and he should place no limitations on his love.

Q: Why then invoke G-d's name at the end of the commandment?

(ג) וטעם אני ה׳‎. כי אני אלוק אחד בראתי אתכם:
(3) I am God means: I, a single God, have created all of you.

One possible explanation to this is that because we are all created by and in the image of G-d, we therefore need to view others that way and treat them accordingly. It may take some effort to see the kedushah in each person, but it is a task we must take on as Jews.

The Great Partnership, p. 127

"There is no greater defense of human dignity than the phrase from the first chapter of the Bible that dared to call the human being 'the image of G-d'."

Do we only love our neighbor?

Rabbi Sacks, Faith in the Future, pg 78.

“The Hebrew Bible contains the great command, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18), and this has often been taken as the basis of biblical morality. But it is not: it is only part of it. The Jewish sages noted that on only one occasion does the Hebrew Bible command us to love our neighbour, but in thirty-seven places it commands us to love the stranger. Our neighbour is one we love because he is like ourselves. The stranger is one we are taught to love precisely because he is not like ourselves. ”