Everybody who’s taken Judaism 101 or been to one keruv session at a Hillel or a Chabad House, knows this one:
A gentile comes up to Hillel the Elder, the head of the Sanhedrin, and tells him he would convert to Judaism if Hillel would tell him the entire Torah while standing on one foot, meaning he’s asking for the gist of it. Hillel, not skipping a beat, responds: “That which you hate being done to you – don’t do to others.”
If you stayed a little longer at that keruv session, the rabbi would have told you that the lovely idea by Hillel corresponds to the verse in the Torah, “Love your neighbor as you would yourself,” or, if they were sticklers for the more accurate translation, love your friend, or love your fellow man (and woman) as you would yourself.
And they’re right, of course, those two statements are the inverse of each other, expressing the same idea once in the negative, once in the positive—don’t do bad is the same as do good.
That verse, which, should we rely on Hillel, is the most important in the Torah, is also the most misquoted. Not distorted, mind you, just clipped. The original verse comes with a beginning and an ending that, if you ask me, answer the most compelling problem inherent in the verse in its current, popular use:
- Love your neighbor (or friend or fellow man or fellow woman) as you would yourself.
- Oh, yeah? And what if I’m self loathing and depressed, and constantly contemplating suicide? Should I then kill my neighbor?
That’s why, in my opinion, we should not cite only a clipped version of that wonderful verse, but insist on expressing the entire verse, because it is critical to the understanding of what the Torah means.
Leviticus 19:18: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your own people (meaning Jews), but you shall love your fellow man as yourself, I am God.
Clearly, before you make an attempt to love your fellow man as you do yourself, you must fix yourself. That means dropping your revenge fantasies and your resentments, both against that person and against the world. Let them go, because they’re the poison that makes you hate yourself, and then your love is no good to me.
I do this by praying for the well being of people who wronged me. The worse the wrong, the longer and deeper the prayer. And if I’m really angry at that person, then I pretend to pray for them, hoping that, eventually, I would be able to pray for them sincerely.
You have to clean up if you want to be of any use to your fellow Jew.
And then, the ending of the verse tells us that we can only access God through our fellow men. Can’t do it by closing our eyes and feeling stuff. Only in the eyes of others do we see God. It’s how He set this up.
Clean up so you can love me through your love for your neighbor, would be the true meaning of the verse.
The Hebrew word V’Ahavta appears in three contexts in the Torah:
In the opening of Sh’ma israel – Deut. 6:5, love God; in the case above, loving your fellow Jew – Lev. 19:18; and in Lev. 19:34 – loving the stranger.
In all three cases, you can’t love while harboring resentments and engaging in revenge fantasies. Pray for the Jews who wronged you – you’re still entitled to take them to court or call the cops on them, but without anger and resentment.
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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