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Love your fellow as yourself

Thursday, 12 May, 2016 - 11:10 am

My children, from time to time, tell me: “my teacher is my sister, because the Jewish people are all brothers and sisters. So my teacher is my sister.” While it seems somewhat childish, they are correct.

Love your fellow as yourself is the overarching rule of the Torah taught to us by Rabbi Akiva. Simply explained; one may think, if you love your fellow like yourself, we do not need all the man to man rules like don’t steal, don’t look for revenge etc. However, just like the Torah tells us to build a mishkan and then gives us the details, so too here, the Torah tells us to love your fellow and follows with the particulars on how to do so.

With that in mind one may ask “how can you command me to love?” Commanding me to do something is possible, but how can I be forced to feel?

In Bava Batra, the Talmud tells about a conversation between Tarnusruphus and Rabbi Akiva.

Tarnusruphus: If your G-d likes the poor, why does He not feed them?

Rabbi Akiva: For the purpose of saving us from the punishment of Gehenna

Tarnusruphus: It is, on the contrary, for this you should be punished with Gehenna; and I will give you a parable from which you will understand why: A king became angry at his slave and put him in prison, with the command that nobody should feed him; in spite of this, a person fed him and gave him drink. Would the king not be angry at and punish such a man? And yet Israelites are called servants, as it is written [Lev. xxv. 55]: "For unto me are the children of Israel servants . . . ."

Rabbi Akiva: I will give you another parable, to which my previous answer is to be compared: A king became angry with his son, put him in prison, and commanded that nobody should give him food or drink; in spite of which command, one fed him and gave him drink. When the king became aware of it, would he not be grateful to this person and send him a present? And we Israelites are called children, as it is written [Deut. xiv. 1]: "You are the children of the Lord," etc.

Rabbi Akiva viewed (and expected us to view) everyone as children of G-d. If you are G-d’s child and I am as well, we are siblings and it is normal for siblings to love each other (although not always easy).

Happy Loving,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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