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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Skorka

Kedoshim- Love of neighbor

This parashah begins with God's command to Moses to gather the whole congregation of Israel (Leviticus 19:1-2) so that they will listen to the commandments that God is giving them to observe in their lives. According to the understanding of the exegetes, even the children had to be present because the essential precepts of the Torah ethics were to be revealed to all the people of Israel.

It is in this parashah that appears the famous verse: "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people. And you will love your neighbor as yourself" (19:18). Who is the neighbor whom one must love as oneself? The object of the first phrase of the verse is defining: "any of your people," and was perceived by Maimonides (Sefer HaChinukh, Mitzvah 219, Hilkhot Deot 6: 3). Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, the master of Yitzchak Luria, in the Kabbalistic circle of sixteenth-century Safed, interpreted the verse to mean that love must be dispensed to every individual, even to sinners and pagans (Tomer Devora, chapter II).

Rabbi Akiva considered the command to love one's neighbor as central to Jewish ethics, as did Hillel (Shabbat 31, a), who formulated it in a negative way: "what is hateful to you, do not inflict it on your neighbor".

Ben Azai, Akiva's companion, argued somewhat differently. He stated that the verse that refers to the creation of human beings, describing them as God-like (Genesis 5: 1), is what sums up the ethics of the Torah. He argued that “from R. Akiba's verse it might be said that when a man is put to shame he may retaliate, since he is not bidden to love his neighbor more than himself. Whereas this verse stresses the sanctity of man even then, for he was created in God's likeness, and an insult to man is an insult to God” (Bereshit Rabba, end of parashah 24).

To love is one of the central verbs of the Bible, and key to our existence.

Shabbat shalom!


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