“You Shall Love Your Fellow As Yourself” Is The Foundation of the Covenant of the Torah
Before his death, Moses said to the Children of Israel, “You are standing today, all of you, before the L-RD your G-d” (Deuteronomy 29:9). Why were they standing? It was in order “for you to pass into the covenant of the L-RD your G-d and into His imprecation” (v.11). In addition, Moses told them that everyone was passing into this covenant – “whoever is here … [and] whoever is not here with us today” (v.14) – for even those who were to be born later would then and there pass into the covenant before Hashem.
We may ask what Moses meant by this. According to the Sages, “When the Children of Israel heard 98 rebukes and curses [in Parsha Ki Tavo], they were overtaken with fear and said, ‘Who can follow all of this?’ Thus Moses told them, ‘You are standing today, all of you.’ If you ‘all’ stand in perfect harmony, you will then have nothing to fear of the curses and rebukes, for you are all united” (Tanhuma Nitzavim 1).
Some commentators explain that Moses knew that after their entry into Eretz Israel, he himself would not be able to assemble them because he was not going to enter the land. Yet now he had the opportunity to assemble the entire people – men, women, and children; scholars and officers; drawers of water and hewers of wood – which is what he did before his death.
Nevertheless, there is something very surprising here. Moses assembled the Children of Israel to tell them that as long as they were united, they had nothing to fear from anyone (Zohar I:6b). Yet if so, why does the verse state, “for you to pass into the covenant,” which seems to indicate that this was the reason for assembling them? Moreover, what is the meaning of “to pass into the covenant”? At the giving of the Torah, the Children of Israel had already entered into a covenant, as it is written: “The L-RD our G-d sealed a covenant with us at Horeb” (Deuteronomy 5:2) and also, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the L-RD sealed with you” (Exodus 24:8). Thus why did Moses again speak of entering a covenant, since that had already occurred?
We shall attempt to explain this as best possible. First, however, we shall clarify a point that is relevant to our topic, allowing us to better understand it. Rabbi Akiva said, “ ‘You shall love your fellow as yourself’ [Leviticus 19:18] is a fundamental principle of the Torah” (Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:4), and Hillel the Elder said to the convert who wanted to learn the entire Torah while standing on one foot: “What is hateful to you, do not do to others” (Shabbat 31a). He did not tell him that the essential aspect of Torah was Shabbat or faith in the Creator of the world. Yet can the advice that he gave to the convert be so far-reaching? Can a person truly love his neighbor as much as himself, or even more than himself, to the point of putting his life in danger for him under certain circumstances?
As we know, a person is very close to himself. He is also the work of G-d’s hands (Kohelet Rabba 3:14). It is therefore from himself that a man can best learn to fear G-d, for he has the potential to elevate himself to a higher level than the angels. Furthermore, his soul is a part of G-d. Now the first and last letters of each word in the expression Chelek Elokah Mima’al (“Part of G-d from Above”) illustrate this concept: The first letters (cheth, aleph, mem) plus the kollel, have the same numerical value as the 50 gates of holiness, and the last first letters (koph, hei, lamed) form the word kalah (“easy”). This means that every person can easily arrive at the 50 gates of holiness, since a part of G-d dwells within him.
From all this, it emerges that a person should look to his fellowman if he wants to fear G-d. He will then feel the presence of G-d and know that G-d resides within him, as it is written: “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me – so that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8) – in each of them. Each person is a miniature sanctuary for the Divine Presence, hence in looking at one’s fellowman – in loving him and connecting to him in unity – a person will definitely succeed in connecting to G-d.
Since we have come to this point, we may understand what Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai meant when he told his disciples: “May your fear of G-d be as great as your fear of men” (Berachot 28b). This means that when the evil inclination disturbs a person in his service of G-d and brings hardships upon him, he stops fearing G-d and only fears men. Yet at that point if he looks at someone else and remembers that in this other person dwells a part of G-d, he can tell himself, “How can I fear this man and not fear the godly part dwelling within him?” Rabban Yochanan said to his disciples: “May your fear of G-d be as great as your fear of men” – you will then, as a result, realize that you must fear G-d, Who is found in man. Perhaps it is for this reason that by nature people fear others – so that people can reason this out for themselves.
This very same idea will allow us to understand the verse that states, “Then those who feared the L-RD spoke to one another, and the L-RD listened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the L-RD and those who give thought to His Name” (Malachi 3:16). We must understand why it is written at the beginning, “those who feared the L-RD spoke to one another” rather than, “those who feared the L-RD and those who give thought to His Name spoke to one another”. Why does “and those who give thought to His Name” come only afterwards, when the verse speaks of a book of remembrance? This connects to the idea that the fear of G-d comes to a man by this “to one another” relationship, meaning that he should behave lovingly with others, with all his heart and soul, aware of the fact that a portion of G-d exists in the other – the work of His hands – to the point that he will achieve a fear of G-d.
Thus G-d, Who probes hearts and minds, will see how those who fear Him speak to one another. He will see the love and fear of Heaven that reigns among them, and this will earn them the merit of being inscribed in a book of remembrance before G-d, a sign of respect and appreciation before the King of kings. Now if it is considered an honor to be recorded in a human king’s book of remembrance, how much more should it be considered an honor to be recorded in G-d’s! In fact, those inscribed in G-d’s book of remembrance conducted themselves correctly with others and managed to achieve a fear of Heaven and perceive G-d in each person. This is why it is precisely when they are being inscribed that the verse states, “and those who give thought to His Name.” G-d saw that they achieved a superior level of understanding, for the numerical value of the Tetragrammaton can be counted (using a certain method) as being equal to 45, which is the same as that of the word adam (“man”). All this stems from the fact that if a person is concerned with his fellowman, G-d’s notes that person and inscribes him in a book of remembrance when it is written.
We therefore see that love for one’s fellowman is a great principle of the Torah. It allows a person to attain the heights of spiritual greatness, even the 50th gate of holiness, as well as a fear of Heaven, for he sees G-d in each person, who is a part of G-d.
Everything that we have said allows us to fully understand what we asked at the beginning, namely why Moses spoke to the Children of Israel of a covenant if he had assembled them to tell them to stay united. The answer is that when he assembled all the Children of Israel of that generation (as well as the generations to come), he saw that it was a great opportunity to teach them that when they are united, they are guarantors for each other, and it is in this way that they can observe the entire Torah. This is what constitutes “For you to pass [le’ovrecha] into the covenant.” The word le’ovrecha is formed by the same letters as le’arevcha (“to be a guarantor”), thus designating mutual responsibility and unity. In addition, the word brit (“covenant”) has the numerical value (including the kollel) of 613, for if mutual responsibility and harmony exist among the Jewish people, there the Torah will be found. It may be that this is the origin of Rabbi Akiva’s statement, “[It] is a fundamental principle of the Torah,” for unity and mutual responsibility enable a person to become sensitive to his fellowman, which also leads to becoming sensitive to the reality of G-d. This is what constitutes, “You are standing today, all of you, before the L-RD your G-d” – united, so you can see the L-RD your G-d in everyone, for a person can perceive that part of G-d which is in the other.
At the end of his commentary to Parsha Bo (Exodus 13:16), the Ramban writes concerning communal prayer in synagogues and the power of the community. He states that we should have a place where we can assemble to acknowledge that G-d created us, to spread His Name, and to state before Him: “We are Your creations!” In this we see a summary of what we have said, meaning that when people assemble in harmony and each person loves the other, they will then automatically acknowledge their Creator G-d and say, “We are Your creations!” – You are perceived in us, and we are a part of G-d – all because of unity.
With regards to this, we may add that Moses’ instruction to the Children of Israel concerning the holy Torah, “It is not in heaven … nor is it across the sea” (Deuteronomy 30:12,13), is a fundamental principle of the Torah. When a person wants to attain the Torah, he should realize that it is really close to him; it is not at all far away. He should also realize that through the Torah he may attain a fear of G-d, for by loving others “the matter is very near to you” (v.14).
This also allows us to fully understand the law concerning a person who seeks to lead others into idolatry, as stated in the book Yirah VaDa’at in the name of the Gaon Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm. A person who seeks to lead others into idolatry is liable to stoning, even if he did not manage to convince anyone to do so (Deuteronomy 13:11). Why is this so, given that an idolatrous act was not committed in such a case? The Torah provides the reason: That person tried to lead others into idolatry, for we are judged even on wicked intentions, and in the area of idolatry the Holy One, blessed be He, connects intentions to deeds (see detailed explanation in Kiddushin 39b, 40a).
Everything is now clear: The person who loves his fellowman will see G-d in him, and from his fellowman he will attain a fear of Heaven, gratitude, faith, access to the 50th gate of holiness, the covenant, mutual responsibility, and the entire Torah. If such a person ceases to study, that will lead him to deny all this, as well as to idolatry. He will denounce G-d, Who is found in others, and become liable to stoning because of the part of G-d found in him. This is because love should bring him to great spiritual levels between man and fellowman, and between man and G-d.