by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – April 24, 2012

In the Torah section of Kedoshim, we find the famous verse (Vayikra 19:18), “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Many, upon reading this verse, wonder as to its exact meaning and ramifications.

In explanation of this verse, R. Eliyahu Dessler amplifies upon it, in Mikhtav Me’Eliyahu III pp. 88- 90, in accordance with the exposition on the verse by the great Biblical exegete and Talmudic giant R. Moshe ben Nachman, also known as Ramban or Nachmanides.

Ramban notes that this verse cannot be taken literally, for one naturally loves himself more and we have a law (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 62a) that “saving one’s own life takes precedence over saving someone else’s life.”  Rather, this verse aims at removing jealousy from one’s heart.  It expects one not to begrudge another an equal amount of happiness.

Ramban writes: “A person may love his neighbor to the extent that he wants him to be blessed in some respects and not in others.  He may want him to be rich but not clever, or vice versa.  Even if he wants him to have all kinds of good things…riches, property, honor, knowledge and wisdom, but not to the same degree that he himself has them.  In his heart, he still wants himself to have more than his neighbor.  The commandment of the Torah is that the person should remove from his heart this defect of jealousy.  He should be as happy when his friend is blessed with good things as he is when he himself is blessed in this way.  We find an example of this unselfish love in the case of Yonatan’s love for David, of which the verse says (Shmuel I, 20:17), ‘He loved him as he loved himself.’  And how do we know this?  Because he was well aware that David would reign over Israel in his stead, but no jealousy entered in his heart.”

R. Dessler expands that many want everything for themselves and nothing for their fellow man, and one may think that the commandment is to want everything for our fellow man and nothing for ourselves.  However, this is too much to expect from the average person.  On the other hand, everyone naturally feels that he is special and searches for anything, as small as it may be, to feel superior to others, and feels dejected if another comes near or surpasses him in any way.  The Torah is telling us that this attitude should be annihilated.  One actually lacks nothing if his neighbor is his equal in any quality, and should, therefore, not wish to honor himself at another’s expense.

Do not deny another the happiness that you would want for yourself.  Doing so will not gain one more happiness.  Refraining from doing so can gain one inestimable pleasure in the World to Come.  This is the lesson of the Torah expressed in the famous verse “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  The rest is up to us.

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