Question: A while back I wronged someone. When I realized my error and the pain it caused, I made restitution and also offered a sincere apology. While the restitution was accepted, the party still continues to bear a grudge even though I have made repeated entreaties to him. I am sure that if the situation were reversed, the individual would expect me to forgive him. Is it possible for you to discuss the concept of “loving your fellow man as yourself”? I am sure it will be helpful to me and many other readers.
Miami Beach, FL
Answer: Your situation touches upon a matter very basic to Judaism. It is an appropriate topic to discuss now in light of Elul and the Yamim Nora’im that have just passed during which we beseeched G-d to forgive us for our transgressions. In His good grace, G-d gave us this special time of year to ask for forgiveness, and the day of Yom Kippur, plus our repentance, wipes away our sins (Yoma 85a). It does so, however, only for sins between man and G-d. Sins between one man and his fellow need forgiveness of the person harmed.
The aggrieved party can refuse to forgive, but he should consider: He has asked G-d to forgive his every infraction. But how can he expect G-d not to notice his intransigence in forgiving his fellow man seeking to pacify him?
Let us now direct our comments to your friend in the hope that he will read them and finally forgive you. The verse in Parshat Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:18) that contains the commandment to love one’s fellow man starts with the injunction, “Lo tikom v’lo titor et bnei amecha – You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people.” We are not only told not to take revenge; we are also admonished not to bear a grudge, whether expressed in words or thoughts in the heart, even as we are engaged in doing good. The verse then continues with “ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha – you shall love your fellow as yourself” and concludes with the words “ani Hashem – I am the L-rd.”
We see that the Torah places loving one’s fellow man on par with fearing Hashem. Rabbi Akiva famously states that loving one’s fellow man is “kelal gadol baTorah – a fundamental principle in the Torah” (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:4). This maxim is also quoted in the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 24:7) in connection with the creation of Adam, who was made in the image of G-d.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a) asks why man – Adam – was created all alone. It answers: So that no man boast to his fellow, “My father is greater than yours.” Every one of us is a child of G-d, our father, our creator. Thus, an infraction against one’s fellow is an infraction against G-d.
The Talmud (Shabbos 31a) relates that a heathen who wished to convert approached the great Shammai and said to him: “Make me a proselyte on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” Shammai rejected him. The heathen then approached the great Hillel with the same request, and Hillel told him, “De’alach snei, lechav’rach la ta’aveid; zohi kol haTorah kulah, ve’idach peirushah hu; zil gemor – What is hateful to you do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah while the rest is the commentary. Go and learn it.” We have to learn from this principle and apply it to the entire Torah. We infer from this episode that Hillel met with great success regarding this proselyte as well as other proselytes, especially in light of the complete text of the Gemara (ibid.), which praises Hillel’s infinite patience.
A related concept is “Kol Yisrael areivin zeh bazeh – All Jews are guarantors for one another” (Shevu’ot 39a). This statement is preceded in the Talmud by a debate concerning the seriousness of the sin of taking G-d’s Name in vain, namely, swearing falsely, which is as equivalent to all the other transgressions in the Torah, and whether the person committing the sin is punished alone or all of Israel is punished along with him. The Gemara concludes that for any transgression – not only taking G-d’s Name in vain – all Jews are punished because they are responsible for one another. They should therefore have done everything possible to prevent the wrongdoing. Each person is so connected to the community that he bears a responsibility toward his fellow.
Thus, we see that no man is an island unto himself. We are part of one entity. We must love each other just as we love our own limbs and organs, for we are indeed connected like the various limbs of one body. If such is the case, how can a person bear a grudge against his fellow man? In retrospect, we realize that it was sin’at chinam, unfounded hatred, that brought about the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem. The antidote, ahavat chinam (gratuitous love) or, better yet, ahavat Yisrael, love of all of Israel, will deliver us from our long exile and prepare the arrival of Melech HaMashiach.