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Love Thy Neighbour as yourself ?

Written by Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag

And you shall love your neighbour like yourself, I am G-d. (Vayikra 19;18)
The commandment to have love for fellow human beings is one of Judaism’s most famous legacies to all mankind. The great Rabbi Akiva referred to it a major principle of the Torah. His teacher Hillel, when confronted with a potential convert who wanted to be taught the whole Torah “while standing on one leg”, responded with a variation on the theme: “that which is detested to you, do not do to your friend.” The difficulty in the command of loving a neighbour comes with the word kamocha, “like yourself”. Are we indeed supposed to give him everything that we have? Surely no love can approach the natural elemental power of self-love. How, then, can the individual be expected to love someone else as much as him or her self?

A recent commentary Ktav Ve’Hakabalah suggests that the command needs to be understood in a different way, as follows: The love that we have to have for our fellow, is defined by kamocha, “like you”. This means the same sort of devotion that we expect from others towards us. The amount of devoted care and concern that we naturally expect from others, that must serve as a yardstick of how much love we are to display for them. Loving our fellow does not extend to giving him everything that we have; because that is not what we expect from him. Ktav v’Hakabalah enumerates, in an non-exhaustive list, the actions of love and care that we would expect from others. We expect others to:

(1) be sincere and not devious in their approach to us;
(2) treat us with respect
(3) to enquire about our welfare;
(4) to empathise with us in times of distress;
(5) to receive us at all times with a smiling countenance;
(6) to judge us and our actions favourably, not negatively;
(7) to be prepared to put themselves out for us;
(8) to lend us items from time to time when we need.

These expressions of love, or even common courtesies, are what we expect other people to grant to us. They serve as an indicator of what we are expected to do for others in fulfillment of the Torah’s command to love our fellow.

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