The Depth of “Love Your Fellow Jew”

This week’s Torah reading says (19:18), “And you should love your fellow Jew as you love yourself.” The Rambam sums up this Mitzvah (commandment) in practical terms and says (Hilchot Aveil, 14:1 [Laws of a Mourner]), “Everything you would want to be done for you, you should do for your brother.” This opens up a whole new world in opportunities for doing this special Mitzvah. Every single favor you do for another Jew is a fulfillment of a Torah Commandment! It is practically unlimited. The Pele Yoetz (Chessed) describes how there is no minimum for the significance of the favor to be considered a Mitzvah. If someone knocks on the door and you open it for him, it is a Mitzvah. If someone asks you for change, and you give him change, that’s a Mitzvah. Even the smallest favor that you would want done for yourself, when you do it for others, you are fulfilling a Mitzvah of the Torah, just as one fulfills a Mitzvah by eating matzah on Pesach (Passover).

A Divine Obligation

We tend to view the way we conduct ourselves with others as a personal matter between us and them. Often, we shy away from helping others when the deed would be taxing upon us. We frequently decide to decline doing a favor based on personal reasons. We have to realize that we are dealing with Mitzvot of the Torah. Helping others is not just a personal matter between you and the person who desires your assistance. It’s an obligation you have to your Creator.

True Kindness: Beyond Self-Interest

In the world at large, even when people help others, it’s often for the wrong reasons. Generally speaking, people see helping others as an ideal, and are driven to do so, because it is ultimately self-beneficiary. People understand it as a system in which by assisting others, the kindness will be reciprocated. The underlying philosophy behind being well mannered and kind is, “If I’m nice to you, you will be nice to me, so it’s worth it for me to be nice to others so that others will be nice to me.” But from a Torah perspective, that’s not what kindness is about. Doing favors for others are Mitzvot of serving God, just like any other Mitzvah God gave us.

A Life of Service

This concept goes even further. This Mitzvah is an all-encompassing Mitzvah which a Jew’s life should revolve around. In the introduction to Nefesh Hachaim, the son of the author writes that his father, Rabbi Chaim Voloziner, would always say to him, “This is what man is all about: a person was not created for himself, rather to help others, with all the means with which he has the power to do so.”

True Altruism

There was once a group who formed an alliance in which everyone in the group committed to come to each other’s aid at times of need. There was a young man who came to Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin to ask his opinion about it. At first, Rabbi Diskin brushed him off and said, “What difference does it make to you.” The young man persisted and said, “To me it sounds like a great idea of implementing the Mitzvah of loving your fellow Jew.” Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin did not agree and said, “This is not loving your fellow man, this is loving yourself! You are forming an alliance to help others in order to ensure that you yourself will be helped. According to the Torah view, one must be there to help anyone in need, whether they are part of the group or not, and even if that person may have harmed you in the past. You should stay far away from joining such a group.”

Every Act Matters

This concept offers us a new attitude to have in mind regarding kindness. We shouldn’t view doing favors for others as merely a personal matter between us and the person who needs our help. Every opportunity to serve our fellow Jew is an opportunity to serve God! There are countless opportunities to practice this every single day. There are always people who could use favors from us, small or big. Even the smallest favor, is another chance to practice this most essential Mitzvah; the Mitzvah which encompasses what the life of Jew is about.

By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber

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