Monday, April 26, 2010

ahavas yisrael - klal gadol batorah

Once upon a time I asked (here) what troubled Rashi about the text that motivated him to explain the pasuk "V'ahavta l'reiacha kamocha" as being a "klal gadol baTorah", a great principle. I saw that R' Shteinman asks the same question in his Ayelet haShachar, but offers no answer.

Putting aside Rashi, the more basic question that begs asking is what Rabbi Akiva's point is. Hopefully we pay attention to the little details of halacha as well as the big principles, so what is gained by describing the mitzvah as a "klal gadol baTorah"? We've touched on this one as well (here). Chassidus (e.g. see Ch 32 of Tanya) connects the mitzvah of loving one's fellow Jew with the mitzvah of loving G-d -- where is G-d found in the world if not in the heart and soul of one's Jewish brother? We know that every Jewish soul has its roots in a letter of the Torah. Loving one's fellow Jew is thus not merely a matter of civility, but is a "klal...baTorah", a means of expressing one's connection and love for G-d and Torah as well.

Rav Shternbruch offers another answer that I thought was very powerful. There is a tendency to separate the mitzvah of ahavas yisrael from other religious obligations. This bifurcation leads to two errors. Firstly, there are those who think being a good Jew entails no more than being a good person-- it's all about tikun olam, being a nice person, etc. You can enjoy your tarfus so long as you lead a socially redeeming life. Rabbi Akiva taught that "V'ahavta l'rei'acha" has meaning only if it is a klal gadol baTorah, if it exists in the context of a commitment to other Torah obligations.

Secondly, and this is the flipside of Rav Shternbruch's point, it unfortunately doesn't take too much searching to find stories of those who think of themselves as bnei Torah who put on a poor demonstration of ahavas yisrael (and kav v'chomer non-Jews). Just as one cannot accept civility or ethics as stand-alone values divorced from other Torah precepts, one cannot be a medakdek in mitzvos without a committment to being medakdek in ahavas yisrael. Civility is not merely about social norma, but is a klal gadol baTorah, an integral component of one's religious persona.


  1. Garnel Ironheart10:34 AM

    In regards to your final point, I would go further.
    On one hand, there is no real pure ben adam l'chaveiro since all those mitzvos are commanded by God and therefore have an element of ben adam l'makom in them.
    However, what you're saying means the reverse is also true. What matters it if the person is medakdek in his ben adam l'makom performance if his ben adam l'chavero is lacking? This is the k'lal gadol b'Torah, that it is the basis for all the holy acts we want to perform.

  2. Garnel, why would that one mitzva be central to the kiyum of the other 612? It's a mitzva like any other mitzva, no more, no less. I admit I don't know what Hillel's statement to the ger means. But even without a pshat, I find it hard to believe that empathy with fellow humans is that important.

    Bishlema Chaim's point is that it's equally important and equally meaningful. But I don't know on what basis we can make this one mitzva fundamental.

  3. First of all, not all mitzvos are created equal, as the saying goes.
    Certain ones we are told, like Shabbos and tzitzis, are equivalent to keeping the whole Torah. Toveling new dishes, on the other hand, never quite makes that description.
    Further, as Chazla note, the 613 number gets whittled down through Nach until it becomes just one mitzvah: A tzadik lives by his faith. So the concept that 612 other mitzvos rely on this first mitzvah doesn't sound so strange to me based on all that.
    Further, Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev interprets Hillel's statement very differently than most others. The chaver in his maxim is God and the idea is that what is hateful to you unto Him. You don't like people lying and deceiving you? Make sure your behaviour avoids lying and deceiving Him, etc. With that in mind I go back to my original point. If we assume that a functioning society is something that God desires us to create, then behaving morally towards our fellow man becomes a ben adam l'Makom mitzvah.