Love Your Fellow
The news has been very difficult to watch recently. Ultimately, we all agree that things are not the way they should be. But how good could they be? What expectations does the Torah have regarding how we should relate to other people?
I would like to share an amazing insight that I read last night in the book Chofetz Chaim. (Interesting fact: the book Chofetz Chaim was written by Rav Yisroel Mayer Kagan, however the book became so widely read and respected in his lifetime that his nickname became Chofetz Chaim.) Chofetz Chaim explained that one of the many mitzvahs we violate when we speak negatively about our fellow man is the commandment to “love your neighbor as you love yourself (Leviticus 19:18).” He explained that if we were to imagine that there was a piece of negative, embarrassing, or harmful information that was about to be leaked about you, how far would you go to stop that information from being released? Unfortunately, blackmail is a very successful business because people will do almost anything to protect their reputation. Yet, many of us casually speak negatively about others! Why don’t we feel this same drive to protect their reputations? If we loved them as much as we loved ourselves we certainly would. This struck me as an amazing yet simple insight. The Torah does not teach me to love my fellow a lot. The Torah is not telling me to love every person as much as I love my best friend. The Torah is telling me to love my fellow person as much as I love myself. I have a tremendous amount of love and care for myself. I hope that you have a tremendous amount of love and care for yourself as well. The Torah is telling me that I need to work on myself to appreciate and love you to that same level.
We hear about respecting all people. The Torah is teaching us that we need to go way, way deeper than that respect. We need to care deeply about every person.
But How Do We Get There?
In "Ethics Of Our Fathers (2:13)” Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai asks his students, “what path should a person take to find personal spiritual perfection?” Rabbi Yehoshua answered, “find a good friend.” Rabbeinu Yonah (12 Century commentator) explains Rabbi Yehoshua’s answer: by learning to completely love and care about just one friend, in a short time one will learn to love and care about more and more people, and ultimately we will love the entire world. Rabbi Yehoshua is teaching us that when we focus on loving the whole world we miss the point. To do this sincerely we need to tackle this project one person at a time. True love and true care are intense emotions and they need to grow slowly to be real.