Parshah Kedoshim contains a plethora of mitzvot. One of the most famous is also one of the most vital. In the verse that begins, “You shall not take revenge or bare a grudge,” we then learn “You shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am Hashem.” This mitzvah, known as Ahavat Yisrael, obligates us to love all Jews.
What is the nature of the mitzvah of Ahavat Yisrael?
As explained by HaRav Avraham Yitzchak haCohen Kook (based on the Rambam), we are commanded to love every Jew unconditionally. This does not mean that we are required to agree with every Jew or to support their actions. Indeed, the Torah commands us to appropriately rebuke our fellow Jew if, because of our close relationship, we can help them return to the correct path.
But just as we love every family member unconditionally, we must love every Jew — our extended family. We must do what we can to help them and care for their needs. (The agricultural gifts for the poor discussed in this parshah are one example of this.)
Our requests in the blessings of the Amidah (the central part of every prayer service) are in the plural, as we are responsible for all Jews, spiritually and physically. And no matter the issues over which we disagree, we must never resort to hatred. The same verse that tells us about rebuking others also commands us, “Do not hate your brother in your heart.” As HaRav Shlomo Aviner teaches, “Divided opinions — yes. Divided hearts — no!”
Once we achieve true Ahavat Yisrael, our love should then spread to the rest of humanity.
As Rav Kook noted in Orot Yisrael, achieving true Ahavat Yisrael is not easy. It is a holy effort that requires a combination of feelings, intellect and action. But as the Second Temple was destroyed due to boundless and groundless hate, the Third Temple shall be rebuilt through boundless love. All the mitzvot are required and critical. But the mitzvah of loving our fellow Jew is one upon which our complete redemption — and the redemption of the entire world — depends.
It is appropriate that we read this parshah the week of Yom Ha’atzmaut, the day when Hashem blessed us with a state in the land of Israel. Sometimes when we think about Israel, we think of arguments. Yet, those arguments are nothing compared with the true love that exists among its people. Who else would open its gates countless times, and at great cost, to Jews of different nations and colors? Who else has a country with so little poverty?
Who else could have an army where all kinds of Jews are willing to fight and die for one another? Who else could, despite the many challenges, work together to build a great and mighty nation that is the spiritual center of the Jewish people? And who else could then take this love of fellow Jews and use it in the service of all mankind in response to disasters worldwide?
Though Israel is not perfect, it is a nation based on the Jewish people’s great love for one another — and Hashem’s great love for us. Israel is Hashem’s gift to the Jewish people and to all humanity. Truly, “Who is like you, oh Israel, one nation in the Land!”
May we all observe the mitzvah of Ahavat Yisrael and, through our love, merit to continue to progress to the complete redemption for which we all long.
Rabbi Shmuel Jablon is the menahel (principal) of Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia, a member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and the host of www.rabbijablon.com.