In Parshas Kedoshim (19:17), the Torah commands one to love his fellow Jew as he loves himself. This includes treating and caring for our fellow Jews as we would want others to treat us and care for us, as stated by the Rambam (Laws of Avel 14:1).
How does one coax himself to love his fellow man and treat him as he would like himself to be treated while being confronted with a conflicting instinct that drives a person to focus on his own benefit as a top priority?
Rabbi Shimon Shkop (in the introduction to Sha’arei Yosher) reconciles this natural opposition with a most enlightening insight: A person was created with an inborn love for himself. This love is extremely powerful and should not be suppressed. However, it is up to a person to define what he includes in his own self.
Our job is to include the entire Jewish Nation in our definition of ourselves. When we view our people as an extension of ourselves, our love for ourselves will naturally drive us to love all our people and do our best to care for them as we would for ourselves.
Towards the end of the Chazon Ish’s life, he was sick and experiencing heart problems, and the doctor instructed him to be completely at rest. His brother-in-law begged him to stop seeing people at this time, who came to seek his council. But the Chazon Ish refused to turn them away and said, “How can I refuse them entry? These people traveled from afar with broken hearts. They are not seeking luxuries just a little comfort.”
This is an example of a truly selfless person. In reference to this story, Rabbi Shlomo Lorentz quotes the words of the Chazon Ish (Emunah Ubitachon, 1:11), “There is a person who yearns to be kind to others. When he meets his friend, he seeks to fill his heart with joy and graces him with a shining countenance. He is concerned that he might have not pleased his friend fully or said something offensive because he has no greater pain than slighting his friend’s honor or omitting an act of kindness from his friend.”
We must remember that loving our fellow Jews is not just a noble attribute which would be nice to aspire to attain. It is a Mitzvah (commandment) in the Torah like all other Mitzvos. Instead of struggling to cope with feelings of selfishness while trying to act thoughtfully to others, we can harness our selfish drive to love others with utmost zeal by broadening our image of ourselves. Instead of viewing other Jews as outsiders, we should focus on how they are our people and an extension of ourselves. Instead of selfishness getting in our way, we can utilize this tremendous power to our benefit and become truly selfless by “being selfish” on behalf of everyone, as we would for ourselves.
Parshas Kedoshim by Rabbi Yitzchok Atyeh Strimber (firstname.lastname@example.org)