Friday, April 23, 2010

Kedoshim: Love

Perhaps of all of the sayings in Kedoshim none is as well known as - "VeAhavta LeReacha Kamocha." The Ramban raises a contradiction - how can it be that you should love your friend equally to yourself? There is a rule in the Gemora: "Chayecha Kodmin." The concept of one's own life taking precedence is illustrated with the scenario of one of two parties in the desert finding a canteen with enough water in it to keep one person alive. The one who has it uses it, and is not supposed to give it to his friend. (Bava Metziah 62a) How then can it be, the Ramban wonders, that we're instructed here to love a friend equally to our love for our self, when we know that the Torah supports a person's survival instinct and says that ultimately your own life comes first?

What is the real meaning of VeAhavta LeReacha KaMocha?"KaMocha" need not be defined as "in equal measure," but can mean "in a similar way." The Ramban takes this phrase as an overstatement for emphasis. The Ramban explains that what we're commanded here is to love our friends also, as we love ourselves. That desire that we have regarding ourselves, to live and be well, should carry over to others.

This idea is supported by the Rambam (Mada 6:3) who writes that we should speak in praise of our neighbors, be careful with the honor and the property of others - as we are with our own. While it is true that our lives come first, that need not inspire us to wish badly for anyone else. On the contrary, what is expected of us by G-d, as conveyed in this command, is to wish only good for others.

The one thing we aren't expected to do is to wish for someone else to have something instead of us. The Ramban notes that it doesn't say "et reacha", rather "lereacha." "LeReacha means towards your friend, but not exactly the same. We know that we are not expected to love the person of our neighbor as much as we love our own self. However, we are expected to love our fellow in all areas, as we love all good for ourselves. Sometimes we want good for our friend in certain areas, but not in others. Ideally, we are told in this pasuk, we should root for our friend in all matters: wealth, honor, wisdom, etc. This is very difficult; jealousy causes us to feel competitive and sometimes to not wish to see others advance. Yonatan, who we are told loved Dovid "as he loved his own soul", personifies this ideal.

Rabbi Akiva is the one who states in Bava Metziah that a person's own life takes precedence over the life of a friend. However, and this serves as a strong support for the Ramban, Rabbi Akiva is the one who famously declared that "VeAhavta LeReacha Kamocha" is a "klal gadol" of the Torah. It seems that Rabbi Akivah was aware of the need for balance - looking out for yourself while not forgetting the rest of the world.We are told to love our friends as we love ourselves.

What is implied is the need to love ourselves. The fact that we want only the best for ourselves is assumed. But is it so? There seems to be an implicit command here to work on self love.May we be blessed to love ourselves and for that love to overflow to others.

1 comment:

adele said...

I read your article and I would like some more to know about Veahavta Leracha Kamocha from Torah
perspective.Can you help me in some way? I m a register nurse,living in Jerusalem, that would like to build a wellness
service on the principal of "Veahavta Lereach Kamoch".
Many thanks,