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07.05.2019 20:09    Comments: 0    Categories: Weekly Parashah      Tags: torah  shabbat  parashah  vayikra  kedochim  

“Love your fellow as yourself—I am the Lord”

The commandments pertaining to interpersonal relations are generally perceived as ethical norms of society whose validity derives from natural human morality.  According to such a view, it is doubtful whether one could call them religious commandments.  Indeed, some aharonim use this to explain why a benediction is not recited when performing one of the commandments dealing with interpersonal relations:

Therefore it seems one should not make a benediction, save for the shim`i commandments (= those mitzvot whose reason is beyond us and which we simply obey; as opposed to the sikhli or rational commandments).  With these it is clear that we should bless, “who has sanctified us by His commandments and commanded us,” for had the Holy One, blessed be He, not commanded us, we would not do them.  But with sikhli (rational) commandments, which ought to be observed even if we had not been commanded, one should not recite the benediction, “who has commanded us.”…This general rule explains many things over which we do not recite a blessing…Likewise, helping to load and unload a beast of burden and adjudicating disputes between one person and another fall into the category of doing good deeds, for common sense dictates that a person should deal kindly with his fellow.[1]

In what follows we shall ponder this approach, examining the position taken by Rabbi Akiva with regard to the commandment to love one’s neighbor, in the context of an implicit polemic with early Christianity.

The well-known homily, “Love your fellow as yourself—Rabbi Akiva says:  This is a great principle in the Torah,”[2] takes on redoubled significance in the context of the answer Jesus gave to a question asked by one of the Pharisees (“Ba`alei ha-Torah”):

“Master, which is the greatest commandment[3] in the Law?”  He answered, “‘Love the Lord your G‑d with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind.’ That is the greatest commandment.  It comes first.  The second is like it:  ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’  Everything in the Law and the prophets hands on these two commandments.”[4]

Jesus presupposes two major principles:  love the Lord and love your neighbor.  Rabbi Akiva differs, and combines the two into a single “great principle”—loving one’s neighbor.[5] Clearly one should not conclude from this that Rabbi Akiva was giving up the requirement that one love the Lord; in his opinion, one is obliged to love the Lord with one’s entire soul, even to the point of martyrdom.[6] It turns out that in Rabbi Akiva’s view loving one’s neighbour and loving the Lord are interrelated and hence are a single principle.  This interrelationship derives from Scripture itself:  “Love your fellow as yourself:  I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:18).[7] The proclamation, “I am the Lord,” subsumes loving one’s fellow in order to teach us that this is not just a human, societal affair, but rather founded on the duty a person has towards heaven, for G‑d made man in His image.[8]

The idea that Rabbi Akiva sets forth, of loving one’s neighbour being integrated with loving G‑d, lies at the heart of another polemic between him and early Christianity:

This teaches that a person should not think to say:  love wisdom but hate scholars; love wisdom and hate the uneducated.  Rather, love the uneducated and hate the heretic, the apostate, and the collaborator…Rabbi Akiva says:  Does He not say, ‘Love your fellow as yourself [I, the Lord, created him]’—when I act [properly] with you, you [should] love [me]; but when someone does not act [properly] with you, you do not [have to] love [him].[9]

The formulation and meaning of Rabbi Akiva’s homily is uncertain.  According to the version presented here, the source for the homily lies in the proclamation, “I am the Lord,” which accompanies statement of the command to love one’s fellow.[10] The proclamation puts loving one’s fellow together with being created in the image of G‑d:  “Love your fellow as yourself [for I, the Lord, created him].”[11] Someone who casts aside his relationship to G‑d and does not treat you properly, is not worthy of neighborly love.[12]

Jesus opposes this, and in his Sermon on the Mount says that loving one’s neighbour applies to all human beings:

You have learned that they were told, “Love your neighbor, hate your enemy.”  What I tell you is this:  Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors; only so can you be children of your heavenly Father, who makes his sun rise on good and bad alike, and sends the rain on the honest and the dishonest.  There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father’s goodness knows no bounds.[13]

Jesus knew of (heard) the interpretation that placed limitations on the principle of loving one’s fellow, not applying it to the wicked, and sought to turn this on its head.  According to him, love of one’s fellow does not depend on the Lord as commander, but on the Lord as creator.  Therefore, one should even love one’s enemy and the wicked, for even if they have sinned against the Lord’s commandments, they nevertheless are children of their Father in heaven.  The Father/Creator’s goodness knows no bounds and does not discriminate in distributing His grace, causing the sun to shine or the rain come down on all, whether righteous or wicked.

Thus we can sum up and say that Rabbi Akiva’s interpretations of the commandment, “Love your fellow as yourself,” wage a hidden polemic against early Christianity.  At the focal point of the polemic is the question of how one should relate to loving one’s fellow and to the commandments pertaining to interpersonal relations in general.  Early Christianity viewed societal commandments as distinct from religious commandments, which are based on love of G‑d, and thus it essentially secularized the commandments between one person and another.  Rabbi Akiva, however, believed that religious and societal commandments were intertwined.  Love of one’s fellow depended on G‑d giving the commandment, “I am the Lord.”  Thus, we have but one great, overarching principle in the Torah, by virtue of which man is commanded to love those who obey the Lord’s commands, while on the other hand hating “the heretics, the apostates and the collaborators.”

Thus we can say that for Rabbi Akiva even commandments pertaining to relations between one person and another actually pertain to the relationship between man and G‑d.

Translated by Rachel Rowen

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