How to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

love-your-neighborWhy an “extra meditation” so late in the day? Why so close to Shabbos, when many of my readers east of me have already gone offline or are preparing to do so? Because I can, I suppose. More accurately, because I read something that touched me and I want it to touch you as well.

Many of us could write up a list of rules for how we’d like to be treated by our friends. Most don’t have a physical list to hand out to people (although it might reduce some painful guesswork if we did), but this is how the list might look:

  1. Be sincere — no acting.
  2. Respect me, always.
  3. Check up on me to see how I’m doing.
  4. Be supportive when I’m in pain.
  5. Greet me warmly when I visit.
  6. Give me the benefit of the doubt.
  7. If I need some help, be ready to lend a hand.
  8. Don’t act overbearing or disdainful towards me.

In our eyes these expectations are within reason. We don’t delude ourselves to think our friends would give us full access to their bank accounts, or sign their house or car over to us, nor do we want them to.

We’re obliged to “Love your friend like yourself” (Lev. 19:18). The obvious question is: how can we be obligated to love others as we love ourselves? Even for someone who naturally loves people, there’s no way such love could equal the devotion they have to themselves!

We come back to our list of expectations. That’s all we really want from others, and it’s really all they want from us. Just treat others as you expect them to treat you — that’s the obligation. Are we able to demonstrate that level of love? We must be, for we couldn’t reasonably expect of others more than we’re capable of doing ourselves! (HaKsav VeHaKabalah, R’ Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, 1785–1865)

Good Shabbos!
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org

I love that list but am also accused by it. I know I don’t always treat my family and friends in the way the list suggests (do I ever?). My heart also pines because I’d love to be treated that way by my family and friends as well. I am not assigning blame. If I don’t treat others this way, how can I expect the treatment to be returned?

And yet, it’s not just our friends and family who are involved.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Matthew 5:43-48

I’m sure you saw that one coming from a mile away.

Hillel the Elder once said, “That which you hate, do not do to your friend [the negative picture of “love your fellow as yourself”]―that is all the Torah and all the rest is commentary. Go and study it.” Our Master Jesus said the same thing expressed positively, linking love of God and love of neighbor:

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40

I’ve already written on the Torah’s greatest principle but I find that I need to repeat myself, not just for your sake, but for my own.

We can’t stop everything that’s wrong in the world. As I’m writing this, a terrorist has all but shut down the city of Boston and the surrounding area. An uncounted number of people are huddling in their homes in fear for their lives. Where will “the suspect” be found? Will he be found? Will he kill again? Who will be his next victim? Will it be me?

Hardly the sort of thoughts and feelings that usher in a peaceful Shabbos.

And we can’t do anything about it. But we can do something else. We can be sincere with our family, friends, and others we come in contact with. We can always treat them with respect. When we haven’t seen a friend for a while, we can call and see how they’re doing. We can be supportive when they’re sick or in pain. When they come to visit, we can greet them warmly and act sincerely glad to see them. When there’s a disagreement, we can strive to give them the benefit of the doubt. If they need help, we can offer them assistance. And even when we’re tempted to or we feel that we are in the right, we can deliberately avoid behaving overbearing or disdainful toward them.

And if we did all that, and if we did all that to everyone we encounter, and if we did that all of the time, we probably wouldn’t stop even a single act of terrorism, stop even one bomb from exploding, prevent even one gun from being fired at another human being, or inhibit the next natural disaster from devastating another city somewhere in the world.

But we would still make the world a better place and we would make ourselves better people.

159 days.

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3 thoughts on “How to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”

  1. Good post, James. 🙂

    Okay, with my next question I will give away the fact that I haven’t had opportunity to check your blog out recently–159 days to what?

  2. Thanks. Sorry you haven’t been able to get here more but I’m glad you read this missive today.

    159 days to what?

    I’m nor disclosing the answer at this time. I post the info more as a reminder to me. I’m sure in about 159 days, I’ll know what’s going to happen and let everyone else know.

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