Love Your Jewish Neighbor

Q: In one of your articles you quote the verse, “and you shall love your neighbor (fellow Jew) as yourself.”

Why is it necessary to add the parenthetical comment that one’s neighbor means one’s fellow Jew? Why can’t one take the verse at face value and say, “I shall love my neighbor as myself”–period–without restricting the mitzvah in a parochial sense? If anything, the dictum “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” should be interpreted to mean not just one’s fellow Jews, but all Humanity regardless of spiritual path, and indeed all living things and all of Creation itself.

Thank You,


A: The Hebrew of the Torah is not easily translatable. The customary translation of veahavta l’reyacha kamocha–“you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18)–seems to imply that all “neighbors,” regardless of creed, are to be loved equally. This implication, based upon the inadequate translation of reyacha, is not accurate.

First let us observe the context in which the above phrase appears in the Torah: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart?You shall not take revenge or feel resentment against the children of your people, you shall love your companion [reyacha] as yourself.” From this it is clear that “your companion” refers to the same category as “your brother” and “the children of your people,” all explicitly referring to one’s fellow Jew.

Thus we see that in the Torah, the Hebrew word reyacha explicitly means “your fellow Jew.” It does not refer to anyone outside the Jewish faith. “Neighbor” is not an accurate translation for the word reyacha. The Hebrew word for “neighbor” is shachen. The Hebrew word reyah means “a very close companion”. Sometimes it is used to mean “spouse”. Just as a Jewish soul is commanded to unite in marriage only with another Jewish soul, so there is also an explicit commandment in the Torah that a very close friendship and companionship with another should be established only with someone referred to as reyah. A Jew is not allowed to develop a very close relationship with a non-Jew for the simple reason that the non-Jew’s faulty faith system might have negative influence on the Jew.

The Jew is commanded to respect all human beings. The Torah prohibits any negative behavior toward a non-Jew, so long as he is not an enemy. He is instructed, however, not to become too close a companion to him. Thus the above verse, veahavta l’reyacha kamocha, “You shall love your neighbor as your self”, does not imply a universal neighbor. To be honest with the text, the parenthetical “a fellow Jew” must appear.

However, the Torah requires a level of love for every one of G-d’s creations. G-d’s ultimate motivation for Creation is love. That is why the Hebrew word for “creation”, b’hibaram , is a permutation of the word b’avraham. Abraham symbolizes love. G-d created everything through the channel of the soul root of Abraham, who is love. Abraham is the first Jew. As the first, or prototype Jew, he bestowed tremendous love upon all of G-d’s creatures. He worked tirelessly to bring the true faith to all of humanity. Through his root, or his mentality and consciousness, G-d created everything.

The Ba’al Shem Tov teaches that a Jew must love all of Creation, as everything reflects G-d’s motivation of love. This is the creative power in any given reality. Just as when a person looks in the mirror he sees his own reflection, so a manifestation of love awakens a response of love.

A fallen spark is the good present in every aspect of reality. The Jewish people have been given the mission of rectifying all of reality by redeeming the fallen sparks. Rectification or rehabilitation of another is contingent on love. Love brings with it devotion and dedication. Love and mercy for the fallen spark which is in a state of existential exile are essential in order to redeem it. When a Jew loves the inner dimension, the Divine spark, in any given reality, he is able to attract it. As in a mirror, this will awaken a response of love.

This is the only way that we can teach G-d’s word to the world. It is our duty to teach the seven Noachide commandments to the world, so that all of humanity and creation will consciously serve G-d together.

The commandment in the Torah of veahavta l’reyacha kamocha does not refer to the above aspect of our Divine service and consciousness.

Return7193.gif (198 bytes) Back to Responsa table of contents

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *