Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Vayikra, 19:18: You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself – I am HaShem. Rashi, 19:18: sv. You shall love your neighbor as yourself: “Rebbe Akiva says, this is a fundamental principle of the Torah.” The Torah famously instructs us to relate to our fellow man in the same way that we relate to ourselves. Rashi quotes Rebbe Akiva who explains that this is a fundamental principle of the Torah, which the commentaries explain to mean that numerous other Mitzvos are built on the foundation of the Mitzvo of ‘love your neighbor’. The Chasam Sofer zt”l notes a contradiction between Rebbe Akiva’s words here and another principle that he expounds in another place. The Gemara in Bava Metsia discusses a situation where two people find themselves in the desert and only one of them has a bottle of water. There is enough water available to enable one of them to survive until they reach civilization. What should the person with the bottle do? Ben Beseira argues that he cannot leave his fellow to die alone, rather they must share the bottle. Rebbe Akiva argues, and derives from the Torah a concept known as ‘chayecha kodmim’; that a person has the right to put his life before the life of his fellow. Accordingly, Rebbe Akiva rules that the person with the bottle may keep it. The Chasam Sofer zt”l writes that these two sayings of Rebbe Akiva seem to contradict themselves. His elucidation of the Mitzvo of ‘love your neighbor’ seems to imply that one must treat his fellow man in the same way as himself, whereas his principle of ‘chayecha kodmim’ suggests that a person can put himself before his friend. He offers a fascinating answer to this question by differentiating between the physical and spiritual realm: The case in Bava Metsia is in the physical realm (gashmius) – there Rebbe Akiva holds that one can put his own physical needs before those of his friend. However, in Parshas Kedoshim, Rebbe Akiva is referring to the spiritual realm (ruchnius); with regards to spirituality he argues that one must treat his fellow exactly the same as himself. To buttress his point he says that is why Rebbe Akiva says that this a fundamental principle in the Torah. Why couldn’t Rebbe Akiva simply say that this is a fundamental principle and stop there? The fact that he added the words, “in the Torah” alludes to the fact that in the realm of Torah, that is, the spiritual sphere, one must take the words of ‘love your neighbor’ literally and treat his friend the same as himself. One implication of his explanation, he argues, is that a person should be willing to stop his own learning in order to teach someone else. This seems difficult to understand because he seems to be telling us to put our fellow before us by teaching them; this goes further than treating them equally. He explains, however, that when a person teaches someone else they both benefit – the student for being taught, and also the teacher benefits from his teaching as well. A further question on the Chasam Sofer’s explanation is why should there be a difference between the physical and spiritual realms with regard to how one treats his fellow? Why, in ruchnius, must he treat his fellow like himself, whereas, in gashmius, he can put himself first? It seems that the answer is based on the metaphysical concept that the Jewish nation is one spiritual entity. The commentaries compare it to one spiritual body where each Jew represents a different part of that body. This gives rise to the concept of ‘kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh’- that each Jew is responsible for each other. This goes so far as to mean that when one Jew sins, then it is considered as if other Jews also sinned. In contrast, on a physical level each person is separate simply because each person’s body is separate from every one else. Accordingly, whilst there is an obligation to care for one’s fellow Jew’s physical needs, it does not reach the extent where one must treat his fellow exactly as himself. The explanation of the Chasam Sofer and its halachic implications are subject to disagreement. Yet its hashkafic ramifications are relevant to all of us. They remind us that the spiritual well-being of our fellow Jew is something that should be at the forefront of our concerns – not simply because we should care about our fellow Jew, but because their failings are our failings and their achievements are our achievements.

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