Parsha and Manuscript: Love Thy Neighbour As Thyself

Friday, 10 May, 2019 - 10:56 am



 One of the most important teachings of the Torah is found in this week’s Torah portion of Kedoshim:[1] ‘Love your fellow as yourself: I am the Lord.’ We will look at this teaching through the lens of the commentary of Rashi, where Rashi comments: ‘Rabbi Akiva says: This is a fundamental principle of the Torah.’


Interestingly, there are three versions of this comment as found in the printed edition and the Oxford manuscripts:


1. In the printed edition it states, as above: ‘Rabbi Akiva says: This is a fundamental principle of the Torah - Zeh k’lal gadol b’Torah.’ This is also how it is found in the following manuscripts: 1. MS CCC 165, 2. MS. Oppenheim 34 (1201-1225), 3. MS. Canon. Or. 81 (1396), 4. MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408), 5. MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425).


2. In MS. Oppenheim Add. 4° 188 (1301-1400) and MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425), a variation can be found in an additional comment that appears in the margin: ‘That which is hateful to you do not do to another (ma d’sani l’ch al ta’vod l’chaver’cha).’ In MS. Michael 384 (1399), the additional comment has been added in the main text.


3. A further variation of Rashi’s comment is pertaining to the Hebrew word ‘This’ in the comment: ‘This is a fundamental principle of the Torah – Zeh k’lal gadol b’Torah.’ In most of the manuscripts and the printed edition the Hebrew word for ‘this’ is ‘zeh.’ In MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425) the word for ‘this’ is ‘zehu.’


The question we would like to pose is what is the significance of the variations in this brief comment of Rashi, as found in the manuscripts compared to the printed edition?


Two sources


The origin of Rashi’s commentary: ‘And you shall love your neighbor as yourself: R. Akiva says: This is a great principle in the Torah’ is from two early rabbinic sources: 1. Sifra, known, as Torat Kohanim,[2] the author of whom is either the Talmudic sage Rav, according to Maimonides, or Rav Hiyya, according to the Rabbi Meir Leibush Wisser (1809-1879), author of the Malbim, 2. Jerusalemite Talmud:




Sifra – Torat Kohanim


‘And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’[4] R. Akiva says: This is a great principle in the Torah. Ben Azzai says: ‘This is the book of the generations of Adam’[5] - This is an even greater principle.


Jerusalemite Talmud


‘And you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’[6] Rabbi Akiva says: This is a great principal in the Torah. Ben Azzai says:[7] ‘This is the book of the generations of Adam’[8] - This is the great principal of the Torah.


Both these teachings seem identical, besides two minor differences: In the Sifra the word for ‘This’ is ‘zeh,’ whereas in the Jerusalemite Talmud the word is ‘zehu.’ The second variation is regarding the statement of Ben Azzai, whether he is a proposing an additional great principle or a greater principle.


The variation of ‘zeh’ or ‘zehu’ reflects the two sources of the teaching of Rabbi Akiva. The version as found in Rashi MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425), where the word is ‘zehu’ would be derived from the text of the Jerusalemite Talmud, whereas all the other versions that have the word ‘zeh’ follow the Sifra.


That which is hateful to you do not do to another


This leads us to the second variation amongst the manuscripts that includes the comment: ‘That which is hateful to you do not do to another.’ The source for the additional comment: ‘That which is hateful to you do not do to another’ is from a teaching, not by Rabbi Akiva, the author of ‘This is a great principle of the Torah,’ as found in the Jerusalemite Talmud and Sifra, but of Hillel the Elder in the Babylonian Talmud:



There was an incident involving one gentile who came before Shammai and said to him: ‘Convert me on condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot.’ Shammai pushed him away with the builder’s cubit in his hand. This was a common measuring stick and Shammai was a builder by trade. The same gentile came before Hillel. He converted him and said to him: ‘That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation. Go study.’


As this is not found in the Sifra or in the Jerusalemite Talmud, the source for Rashi’s initial comment, we would like to ask why is it included in various versions of the manuscripts but omitted in others and ultimately omitted in the published edition? I would like to proceed to argue, first, why this additional comment should be included and then propose three reasons why it should be omitted.


Three interpretations – Kindness, love of man, love of G-d


Between man and man; between man and G-d


The meaning of this great principle ‘Love thy neighbor as yourself’ may be understood literally as referring to one’s neighbor or friend in the context of ethical behaviour between man and man. This is the view of many of the biblical commentators and legalists. Alternatively, the principle may be understood in relation to G-d, encompassing all the Torah’s laws. The premise of this principle then is that you should be obedient to what G-d wants, as you would want people to be obedient to what you want. Both these views are brought in Rashi’s commentary on the Talmud in the 12th century.[10] Similarly, both these views are mentioned in the biblical commentaries in the 17th century: Rabbi Shabbethai ben Joseph Bass (1641–1718) in his commentary Sifsei Chachamim follows the latter, that it refers to behaviour between man and G-d, while Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz (1550 - 1619) follows the former, that it refers to behaviour between man and man.


Between man and man - kindness


We’ll present a number of the commentaries that interpret ‘Love thy neighbour as yourself’ as referring to ethical behaviour between man and man. Rabbi Nissim of Gerona (1320-1380) places this law in the context of the section of laws that are not matters of the heart like belief in G-d, but of the second category, of loving kindness between man and man. He maintains this makes all the mitzvot easier to perform when a person has these character traits.


Nachmanides (1194-1270) explains that ‘Love thy neigbour as thyself’ is not literal, as it is an impossible virtue to have, but, rather, the Torah here enjoins us that we should wish upon our neighbour unstintingly the same benefits that we wish upon ourselves.


French Rabbi Chezekiah ben Manoah (1250-1310) also maintains that it is not meant to be understood literally but rather that it is possible to love things that belong to your fellow human being as much as you love the things that are your own. You are to put yourself mentally into the position of your fellow human being, and therefore not to do anything to him that you would not have others do to you. By the same token you should love as much to do favours for him as you would have others do favours for you.


Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (1288–1344), known as Ralbag or Gersonidis, also maintains that one should love one’s friend like one’s own body and applies this to the idea that one should choose for the very best for one’s friend and distance harm from him like he would do for himself.


The Talmud[11] applies this principle to a condemned prisoner, that the court should select a good, i.e., a compassionate, death for him. Therefore, when putting a woman to death by stoning, she should not be humiliated in the process.


The author of Sefer Hachinuch applies it to the following idea: ‘As one that loves his fellow like himself will not steal his money, have adultery with his wife, cheat his money from him nor hurt him from any angle.’


Maimonides applies it to the following:



It is mandatory upon every man to love each and every one of Israel even as he loves his own self, for it is said: "But thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Lev. 19.19.). One is therefore, obliged to speak in praise of his neighbor, and to be considerate of his money, even as he is considerate of his own money, or desires to preserve his own honour.


Similarly, Maimonides writes:



It is a rabbinic positive precept to visit the sick, comfort the mourners, escort the dead, dower the bride, accompany the departing guests — — as well as to cheer the bride and the groom, and to assist them in whatever they need. Even though all these precepts are of rabbinic origin, they are implied in the biblical verse: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself";[14] that is, whatever you would have others do to you, do to your brothers in Torah and precepts.



Literal – love


Other commentaries, however, view ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself,’ literally, that one should have the same for one’s fellow as oneself. In Ethics of the Fathers, it states:



Rabbi Akiva would say: Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G‑d]; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to him that he was created in the image, as it is says, "For in the image of G‑d, He made man" (Genesis 9:6). Beloved are Israel, for they are called children of G‑d; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to them that they are called children of G‑d, as it is stated: "You are children of the L-rd your G‑d" (Deuteronomy 14:1).


Similarly, in the work of the Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains the commandment as between man and man on a literal level that man should see one’s fellow as in complete unity with oneself in one’s source and therefore have a genuine love for one’s fellow. The Tanya states:



This explains Hillel the Elder’s statement concerning the fulfillment of this mitzvah: “This is the entire Torah, the rest is but commentary.” For the basis and root purpose of the entire Torah is to elevate and exalt the soul high above the body, to [G‑d], the root and source of all worlds, and also to draw down the infinite light of Ein Sof into the Community of Israelmeaning into the fountainhead of the souls of all Israel, so that “the One [G‑d] will reside within [Israel — but only insofar as they are] one,” i.e., united. But this indwelling of the light of Ein Sof in the Community of Israel is impossible if there is disunity between the souls, G‑d forbid, for “G‑d does not dwell in an imperfect, fragmented, place.” So do we say in our prayers: “Bless us, our Father, all as one with the light of Your Countenance,” indicating that “the light of G‑d’s Countenance” can be revealed only when we are united “all as one,” as explained elsewhere at length. Since every Jew has a divine soul, and since the commandment to love one’s fellow is based on the essential unity of the souls, it follows that this commandment applies to every Jew without exception.


Summary – Rabbi Akiva and Hillel are synonymous


According to the above interpretation that understands the commandment ‘Love thy neighbour as yourself,’ not as an emotional love but rather to show kindness towards one’s fellow like one wishes for oneself, the teaching of Rabbi Akiva and Hillel are synonymous. This synonymy is expressed explicitly in the foremost commentary on the Sifra, the origin of this teaching, by Rabbi Hillel ben Elyakim, student of Rashi. He explains: The reason for the idea that you should ‘Love thy neighbour as yourself’ is based on the logic: ‘That which is hateful to you do not do to another.’ As this principle is the basis for the laws of the Torah between man and man, it therefore reasons that ‘Love thy neighbour as yourself’ is a fundamental principle of the Torah.


This would explain the manuscripts that include the teaching of Hillel juxtaposed to the teaching of Rabbi Akiva, as they are complementary – following the view that both are the underpinning of the laws between man and man. If this is the case, why do the printed editions and many manuscripts omit the teaching of Hillel in Rashi’s commentary? I would like to propose three reasons:


Why omit Hillel’s rule in Rashi?


1. Rashi commentary not work of ethics


The commentary of Rashi is primarily a biblical commentary that is coming to explain the plain meaning of the text.[16] In our case, the question is: why does Rashi bring the statement of Rabbi Akiva at all? Most commentaries as above explain that it is to highlight the importance of the law and its fundamentality. Why is this relevant to the reading of the biblical text? The obvious question in the biblical text that Rashi would be coming to address is: why does the Torah repeat itself? It could have just written ‘Love they neighbour as thyself,’ which automatically includes theft, revenge, lying, bearing false witness, withholding wages, etc.


To answer this question Rashi explains – ‘This is a great principle of the Torah’ – highlighting that the style of the biblical text is to use principles in addition to their details; the idea of a principle is that it includes details. This would explain the reason for the repetition of the text. The reason why it’s called the ‘great’ principle is because ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ is not in close proximity to all its details, as other principles and their details, but rather spread across the whole Torah.[17] This understanding of Rashi’s commentary explains the reason for omitting Hillel’s rule, as Rashi is not an ethical or legal work, but rather aims to merely answer the above question in the biblical text and does so by the teaching of Rabbi Akiva: ‘This is a great principle of the Torah.’


2. Literal - Ethics of the Fathers


A second reason for the omission of Hillel’s rule may be since the author of the statement ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself is a great principle of the Torah’ is Rabbi Akiva. As mentioned earlier from Ethics of the Fathers,[18] Rabbi Akiva is of the view that the interpretation of the verse can be also understood literally: one should have an emotional love for one’s fellow as oneself. Accordingly, the ruling of Hillel that focuses on acts of kindness, as explained above, is not relevant.


3. The principle or a principle


A third reason for omitting Hillel’s rule may be due, not to a difference between emotional love between man and man and acts of loving kindness between man and man, but more fundamentally, whether the focus is on behaviour between man and man or between man and G-d. Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz (1550 – 1619), in his commentary Kli Yakar,[19] explains that the underlying narrative of the Talmudic story about Hillel and the convert is that the convert was requesting of Hillel to show him one foundation for all the Torah’s commandments, upon which all the Torah’s commandments stand, so that he will not come to forgetfulness. Accordingly, in the teaching of Hillel in the Babylonian Talmud, as opposed to Rabbi Akiva in the Jerusalemite Talmud and the Sifra, the principle ‘That which is hateful to you do not do to another’ is a fundamental principle of the whole Torah, upon which the whole Torah is founded. This is also implied by Hillel’s response to the convert: ‘That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation. Go study.’


This idea that it is a principle of the whole Torah is based on the premise that ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ and ‘That which is hateful to you do not do to another’ are referring to the overall relationship ‘between man and G-d’ that also includes ethical behaviour ‘between man and man,’ as commanded by G-d in the Torah. This is also Rashi’s preferred[20] interpretation of the Talmudic story about Hillel and the convert.[21] This is in contrast to Rabbi Akiva’s statement that fundamentally understands ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ as relating to commandments between man and man; it is therefore defined as, not the principle of the Torah, but merely a principle of the Torah, as ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ in the context of the laws between man and man is indeed not the foundation of the whole Torah. For this reason it would not make sense to combine the statements of Rabbi Akiva and Hillel together in the same comment.



[1] Leviticus 19:18.

[2] 4:12.

[3] 9:4; p. 30b.

[4] Leviticus 19:18.

[5] Genesis 5:1.

[6] Leviticus 19:18.

[7] Genesis 5:1.

[8] Genesis 5:1.

[9] Shabbat 31a.

[10] Talmud Shabbat 31a

[11] Sotah 8b and Pesachim 75a.

[12] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Ethics (De’ot) 6:3.

[13] Mishneh Torah, Laws of mourning 14:1.

[14] Leviticus 19:18.

[15] 3:13-14.

[16] Rashi commentary on Genesis 3:8.

[17] Likkutei Sichot 17, Kedoshim.

[18] 3:13-14.

[19] Leviticus 19:18:4.

[20] This commentary is the first explanation that Rashi brings.

[21] Shabbat 31a. 


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