Shaarei Yosher – VeAhavta leRei’akha kaMokha
Vayiqra 19:18 famously says “VaAhavta lerei’akh kamokha, ani Hashem — love your neighbor as yourself, I Am Hashem.
Rav Shimon Shkop has much to say about this pasuq, so I followed up the previous shiur on “qedoshim tihyu qi Qadosh Ani — be holy for I Am Holy” with another.
In that shiur, we saw that Rav Shimon defines our mission in life in terms of bringing benefit to others. In Rav Shimon’s hands, “kamokha — like yourself” is the key to understanding how. That the key is not selfishness, but in how we define “self”. To use the same mechanism that makes it easier to sacrifice to benefit our spouse or children to help others.
The measure of a person’s soul is the number of people they include when they say “אני”. Is it just their body? Their body and soul? Perhaps just them and their spouse, or their immediate family. Or extended family and friends. The entire Jewish People. All of creation. If we could only see ourselves as “a limb in the whole of creation”, our natural self-interest would be harnessed to benefiting others.
And yet, it also explains why the same Rabbi Akiva who says our pasuq is the great principle of the Torah rules that if one is in the desert and only has enough water for one person, they are supposed to save themselves first. And the “poor of your own city come first” before others when disbursing charity. (And the Shulchan Arukh rules that for similar reasons, needy family members come before others.)
It explains why Hillel tells the prospective convert to implement this pasuq by framing it in the negative. Not a duty to do for someone else, but a duty not to do to them what we wouldn’t want done. And what he means by “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am for myself alone, what am I?” I need to provide for אני, but אני must mean more to me than what presents itself to the eye as myself alone.
- “Ve’ahavta lerei’akh — love your neighbor” is the meaning of life.
- “Kamokha — like you” explains how we accomplish this. By realizing my אני includes them.
- “Ani Hashem — I am G-d.” This is how we emulate the Creator, who made the world for our benefit, and how we fulfill His Purpose for our lives.
You can get the text from chapter 1 of my book, Widen Your Tent. This chapter consists of the introduction to Shaarei Yosher, with my translation but no other commentary, and is available on-line here. This shiur covers text from what was printed in the original edition as the second paragraph (sec. 1.2 in my book), selections from page 51 and pages 54-56.