“וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָֽה-
And You Shall Love Your Neighbor As Yourself, I am HaShem” (Vayikra 19:18)
Parshat Kedoshim begins with a series of commandments about ethical behavior that reaches its climax with this directive that Rabbi Akiva called ‘a major Torah principle’. (Sifre)
How does Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook ZT”L understand this major Torah principle?
Rav Kook wrote extensively about the significance of love in Torah and life. His ethical masterpiece ‘Midot HaRayah:The Moral Principles’ includes one of his most complete discussions on the importance of universal love. Let us review its highlights:
“The heart must be filled with love for all.
The love of all creation comes first, then comes the love for all humankind,and then follows the love for Israel, in which all other loves are included. It is the destiny of Israel to serve toward the perfection of all things.
All these loves are to be expressed in practical action, by pursuing the welfare of those we are bidden to love, and to seek their advancement….
The love for people must be alive in heart and soul, a love for all people and a love for all nations, expressing itself in a desire for their spiritual and material advancement. Hatred may direct itself only toward the evil and the filth in the world….
The degree of love in the soul of the righteous embraces all creatures, it excludes nothing, and no people or tongue. Even the wicked Amalek’s name is to be erased by Biblical injunction only ‘from under the heavens’ (Shmot 17:14). But through cleansing he may be raised to the source of the good, which is above the heavens, and is then included in the higher love….
Much effort is needed to broaden the love for people to the proper level, at which it must pervade life to its fullest depth….
The highest level of love for people is the love due to the individual person; it must embrace every single individual, regardless of differences in views on religion, or differences of race or climate.
It is essential to understand the mentalities of different nations and groupings, to study their characteristics and life-styles in order to know how to base our human love on foundations that will readily translate themselves into action.
It is only a person rich in love for people and love for each individual person who can reach the love of their own nation in its noblest dimension, spiritually and practically.
The narrow-mindedness that leads one to view whatever is outside a particular nation, outside the boundary of Israel, as ugly and defiling, is a phase of the frightful darkness that altogether undermines every effort to reach that state of spiritual development whose dawn is awaited by every sensitive spirit….
The entire Torah, the moral teachings, the commandments, the good deeds and their studies have as their objective to remove the roadblocks so that this universal love should be able to spread, to extend to all realms of life.
The fruits generated from the roots of this supremely holy love comprise the good and upright qualities, the particular and the general, the person and the social, until we reach a state where the world is judged by ‘righteousness and nations by equity’ (Ps. 98:9).”
In this very important document, Rav Kook makes it very clear that creating a world of universal love is a central and overriding goal of the Torah and its practices. We must realize that the love of Israel includes the love of all humankind and of every human being. “Our love must embrace every single individual, regardless of differences in views on religion, or differences of race or climate.”
Israel’s long exilic experience required us to focus on our own survival. Rav Kook is emphasizing to us that our return to the Land of Israel requires us to grow out of our narrow-mindedness in order to truly fulfill the major Torah principle of ‘loving all humankind’.
He realized that significant growth is required to realize and actualize this. We must grow larger: “A human being must make a great effort to realize that there is a reality in the world that is larger than their individual being. When someone knows this properly they can comprehend their Creator.
Thus ‘Love Your Neighbor As Yourself’ truly encompasses the entire Torah (Shabbat 31a).
It is the foundation of truth and knowing the Blessed Holy One.” (Pinkas 1:248)
Israel is involved in many projects and activities that are of huge significance to all humankind. May we be blessed to expand our efforts and fully manifest the Torah’s directive of loving every human being as ourselves “so that universal love should be able to spread and extend to all realms of life.”
BeMhera BeYamenu- Immediately In Our Days
With appreciation for Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser Z”L’s masterful translation of Torat HaRav Kook.