Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

Introduction

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What Does Loving Another Entail?

In Sifra Vayikra 19:18, Rabbi Akiva famously notes that the dictum "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" is "a very important rule in Torah". What, though, is being commanded in this law? At first glance the verse appears somewhat straightforward, but in fact each of the three words of the phrase is open to interpretation:

  • What is included in "וְאָהַבְתָּ"?  Is the Torah enjoining that one feel an emotion or that one perform a set of actions?  If the former, is this a viable expectation? Is love even subject to one's will? Though it is fair to expect a person to act in a certain way to another being, is it reasonable to demand of someone to feel a certain way?  On the other hand, if the Torah is, instead, dictating certain actions, which would constitute fulfillment of the mitzvah?
  • Who constitutes "רעך"?  Is the law all inclusive, mandating that we love everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, or might it be more limited, including only fellow Israelites?   What if the other is not a good person, or simply a stranger? Must we "love" them too?
  • "As yourself" – Given a conflict of interest between one's self and the other, who comes first? Does the addition of the word "כמוך" to the command to love the other imply that it is wrong to prioritize one's own needs, and that our love for the other should be equal to our love for our self?1

Additional Questions

  • "וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ" vs. "וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת"‎ – The verb "אהב" is normally connected to its object via the preposition "את" rather than "ל".‎2  What is the significance of the somewhat unique formulation of our verse?3
  • Context – The command directly follows the prohibitions against taking revenge and bearing grudges, and immediately precedes the words "אני ה'".  How might this context shed light of the nature of the law?
  • Comparable laws – How do other commandments involving love of another, such as the directives to love Hashem (Devarim 6:5) or to love a foreigner (Vayikra 19:34 and Devarim 10:19), compare to the obligation to love our neighbor? Does "love" have a consistent meaning in each of these instances?
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