This week we will be reading from the double portion of Acharei Mot–Kedoshim. These two portions are often referred to as the Holiness Code as they contain some of the most important mitzvot with regards to creating a just, righteous and holy society.
Right in the heart of Kedoshim we find the following phrase “V’ahavta L’reiacha Kamocha,” or “love your fellow [Israelite] as yourself.”1 This phrase has often been referred to as “the golden rule.” This rule or maxim can be found expressed in many religions and cultures. For example, in the teachings of Confucius, he said, “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.”2 This same sentiment was also echoed by Rabbi Hillel in that famous midrash about the Roman General and Rabbi Shammai, where Hillel when asked to summarize the entirety of Judaism on one foot, told this general, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor; that is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary; go learn it.”3 It was later reiterated in the Gospel of Matthew during the sermon on the mount.4
Needless to say, until modern times, this maxim was mostly applied to interpersonal relations, namely the people we interacted with. In the case of our ancestors, this would mean they would be expected to act this way to their fellow Israelites. In more recent contexts like in the teachings of Martin Buber, the goal is to be loving to our fellow (person).
In the words of the Plaut Torah Commentary, “Nachmanides held to the traditional ‘love your fellow … as yourself’ but regarded the language as rhetorical exaggeration. Our nature is such that we cannot love others as much as ourselves; and the halachah does not obligate us to sacrifice our lives for others. This commandment, Nachmanides asserts, calls on us to love others as we love good for ourselves. We should free ourselves from jealousy and rejoice in our fellow’s good fortune. But we should not tolerate injustice in the name of ill-considered love.”5
Within the larger context of Kedoshim, the golden rule is reminding us not only to love, but also not to hate. Living in a world where it is easy to find so much anger and hate, especially surrounded by so much suffering; better to turn our hearts to love and compassion. These are the tools to combat inequity, inequality, and anger. It is certainly not an easy act to perform, but it is one of the most holy.
Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff
1 Lev. 19:17
2 Analects, 15:23, 6:28
3 Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a
4 Matthew 7:12
5 Plaut, Gunther, ed. The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Revised Edition, URJ Press pg. 810-811