V’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha Ani Hashem (Vayikra 19:18)
The Torah commands us to love other Jews as we love ourselves, a mitzvah known as ahavas Yisrael. The Ramban points out that while this concept sounds lofty and inspiring in theory, in practice it is virtually impossible to accomplish. How can we be expected to love any other person as much as we love ourselves, let alone every single Jew in the world?
As a result of this difficulty, the Ramban suggests that the mitzvah is to want other Jews to have just as much blessing in every area of their lives as we want for ourselves, which is a more realistic goal. However, he notes that although we want good things for our friends, we often limit our generosity to specific areas. For example, we may be at peace with others being equal or even superior to us in intelligence or appearance, but we still struggle when we see their financial success or picture-perfect family. Even when we attempt to view others magnanimously, we still inwardly wish to remain superior in at least some critical facet of life. Accordingly, the Ramban explains that the Torah is commanding us to suppress all feelings of jealousy and resentfulness by striving to mentally bless every Jew with the same comprehensive happiness and prosperity that we desire for ourselves.
Harav Yissocher Frand notes that the Ramban’s interpretation of the mitzvah can help elucidate a perplexing Gemara. The Gemara (Shabbos 31a) records that a gentile once expressed interest in converting to Judaism on the condition that the entire Torah be taught to him while he stands on one foot. Shammai balked at the request and pushed him away. The gentile then approached Hillel who told him, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your friend. This is the entire Torah, and the rest is only commentary.”
Although well-known, this episode is quite difficult to understand. As fundamental as the mitzvah to love other Jews may be, it at most encapsulates the mitzvos that are bein adam l’chaveiro (between man and his fellow man). How could Hillel say that it represents the entire Torah when it contains no mention of our obligations to Hashem, such as observing Shabbos and not practicing idolatry?
The Ramban reveals to us that the key to fulfilling the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael is overcoming the feelings of jealousy that prevent us from wanting the same success for others that we desire for ourselves. However, this is easier said than done, for envy is one of the most basic human emotions. How can a person work on uprooting his natural feelings of jealousy in order to properly perform this mitzvah?
Rav Frand posits that the key to eliminating feelings of resentment and spite toward others is emunah — believing that Hashem runs the world with Hashgachah Pratis (personalized Divine Providence) and gives every person the exact tools and talents he needs to achieve his life mission. Thus, if we don’t have something, it’s because Hashem knows that we don’t need it, and if somebody else does possess it, it’s because he does need it. Although internalizing this perspective is also easier said than done, it is the only approach that will ultimately enable us to view others with an ayin tovah (generous eye) and to want them to enjoy the same success and accomplishments that we seek for ourselves, as the Torah commands us to do.
With this insight, Rav Frand explains that we can now appreciate why Hillel was able to tell the potential convert that this mitzvah summarizes the entire Torah, as the concept of ahavas Yisrael is not limited to interpersonal interactions. At its depth, it is fundamentally rooted in emunah, and the belief in an omnipotent, loving, and all-merciful G-d Who created and continues to run the world with Hashgachah Pratis indeed encapsulates the entire Torah, just as Hillel said.
Q: Although the Torah describes (Vayikra 19:19) the prohibitions against wearing shatnez (garments that contain both wool and linen) and crossbreeding two different species of plants or animals as chukim (statutes given without any reasons) — Chazal and the Rishonim give at least five explanations for these mitzvos. How many can you identify?
A: The Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachya explain that when Hashem created the world, He imbued each species with its own unique traits. By crossbreeding two different species together and creating a new species, a person is deviating from Hashem’s intended plan and insinuating that He did not fully finish the task of Creation.
Moshav Z’keinim notes that products of crossbreeding — such as mules — are incapable of having offspring, thereby further undermining the natural order.
The Rambam writes that at the time of the giving of the Torah, idolatrous priests were accustomed to wearing garments that contained wool and linen, so the Torah forbade shatnez to distance us from this foreign practice.
The Midrash points out that wool and linen were responsible for the first murder in world history, as Kayin became jealous when his offering of flax (Rashi, Bereishis 4:3) did not find favor with Hashem, while Hevel’s offering of a sheep and its wool was accepted, so Hashem permanently forbade their combination.
The Ichud b’Chidud suggests that the Shulchan Aruch alludes to the connection between shatnez and murder by beginning its discussion of the laws of shatnez in Yoreh Deah, chapter 298, which in Hebrew is written as ratza”ch (murder), and concluding the topic in chapter 30, written as Sh”d — an acronym for shefichas damim (spilling blood). The Daas Z’keinim observes that the paroches (curtain) in the Mishkan contained linen and wool. Just as the Torah forbids (Shemos 30:38) us to duplicate the recipe for the ketores (incense) and Chazal prohibit (Rosh Hashanah 24a) making a copy of the vessels used in the Beis Hamikdash, so too Hashem wanted to keep the mixture of wool and linen exclusively reserved for Divine purposes, so He forbade their combination in our mundane garments.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.