“Friends and Neighbours” Parashat Acharei Mot – Kedoshim 5775

Parashat Kedoshim is a veritable warehouse of mitzvot. It includes mitzvot between man and Hashem as well as mitzvot between man and his fellow man, from agricultural mitzvot to mitzvot that are pertinent only in the Beit HaMikdash. It contains perhaps the most famous of all mitzvot, and it also contains its inverse. The mitzvah we are referring to is [Vayikra 19:18] “Love your neighbour as yourself”. The inverse of this mitzvah is found one verse earlier [Vayikra 19:17]: “Do not hate your brother in your heart”. The Ibn Ezra writes that “not hating your brother” is the opposite (hefech) of “loving your neighbour”. According to this understanding, the Torah is essentially telling us “Do not hate your brother in your heart, but, rather, love your neighbour as yourself”. If this is so, then why aren’t these two commandments written one right after the other? In fact, two other lie in between “not hating your brother” and “loving your neighbour”: “You shall surely rebuke your fellow” and “You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people”. What is the reason for this “buffer”?

The Ramban explains that these four commandments form a logical progression:

  1. “Do not hate your brother in your heart” if he has done you wrong.
  2. Rather, “You shall surely rebuke your fellow” and you should ask him why he behaved in such a manner[1].
  3. Even if you conscientiously cease feeling hate for this person, you must be extra careful not to subconsciously take revenge for what he did to you.
  4. Finally, after clearing your heart of all vestiges of animosity, you must take it upon yourself to actively love this person.

A person can’t stop hating and start loving on command. The change is just too violent. A change must be performed gradually in order to stick. Only after a period of adjustment, a period accompanied by actions dictated by the Torah, can hate be replaced by love.

I’d like to suggest an alternative logical progression, but rather than concentrating on the mechanics of the mitzvah, we’ll concentrate on the beneficiary of the mitzvah. Notice that in the four mitzvot that lead us from hate to love, the beneficiary changes four times:

  1. Do not hate your brother (achicha) in your heart.
  2. You shall surely rebuke your fellow (ami’techa).
  3. You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people (Bnei Am’echa).
  4. Love your neighbour (re’echa) as yourself.

A nearly-identical progression of brother-people-neighbour is found in the two previous verses [Vayikra 19:15-16]:

  1. Judge your fellow with righteousness.
  2. Do not go around as a gossipmonger amidst your people.
  3. Do not stand by [the shedding of] your neighbour’s

More interestingly, the last commandments in both groups of mitzvot are followed by the words “I am Hashem”. Let us try to understand the difference between “brother” and “fellow” and “people” and “neighbour”. The word “brother” (achicha) is used most often in the Torah to describe one’s natural brother: the son of his mother or father. Obviously the Torah is not presenting us with a mitzvah that is pertinent only with a close relative. Rather, when the Torah uses the word “brother” in the context of a mitzvah, it is referring to a close friend, someone that we would colloquially call a “brotha from anotha motha”. When the Torah says “Do not hate your brother in your heart”, it is telling us “Do not hate your close friend in your heart”. That’s easy enough. After all, he’s my best friend. He’s allowed to slip up.

According to the Midrash in Tana d’Vei Eliyahu Raba the word “fellow” (amit) is referring to “someone who is your fellow in Torah and in the [scrupulous] performance of mitzvot[2]. According to the Midrash we are commanded to rebuke only such a person. Similarly, the Talmud in Tractate Shevuot [30a] rules that while we are commanded to judge a person with righteousness by giving him the benefit of the doubt, this rule only applies with a “fellow” – one who is scrupulous in the performance of mitzvot. Fair enough. He’s not a close friend, but he’s one of the good guys. We should treat him extra fairly.

What about “your people” (amecha)? The Talmud in Tractate in Bava Metzia [48b] interprets the verse [Shemot 22:27] “Do not curse a leader among your people (b’am’cha)” as referring to a leader “who performs actions [befitting] your people”. A leader who acts in a manner contrary to Judaism does not deserve our respect. Similarly, the normative halacha[3] rules that it is permitted to gossip about a person who has openly and brazenly committed acts that separate himself from the Jewish people. It would be fair to conclude that it is also permitted to bear a grudge against this person. For all other people, we must remain silent. So he’s not a saint. But he’s a “Pintele Yid”. He has a “Jewish spark”. Let bygones be bygones.

It should be clear by now that each step from “brother” to “fellow” to “people” has been accompanied by a reduction in the level of interpersonal closeness. The word “neighbour” (re’echa) continues this trend. Rav Moshe Tzuriel explains that the word “neighbour” is referring to “any person from Israel”. Good or bad, right or wrong, from Moshe Rabbeinu all the way down to Korach. Rav Tzuriel brings numerous verses to support his thesis, including [Devarim 5:18] “Do not desire your neighbour’s wife; do not desire your neighbour’s house, his field, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour” and [Vayikra 19:13] “Do not oppress your neighbour.” This interpretation of the word “neighbour” makes the mitzvot of “loving your neighbour” and “not standing by at the shedding of your neighbour’s blood” extremely difficult to perform. How can I really and truly love this person? He’s a total loser and he always makes fun of me. Do You really expect me to risk my life for him? That is precisely what the Torah wants. The Torah does not want us to love our fellow Jew because of what he has done. The Torah wants us to love our fellow Jew because of what he is.

And what is he? This is where “I am Hashem” comes in. Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi, in the 32nd chapter of the Tanya, discusses the structure of the human soul and he makes an amazing point. The soul, like Shrek’s onion, has many layers. When all of the layers are peeled away what remains is a Divine spark – an actual piece of the Divine. Jews like to play “Jewish Geography”. If two people go back far enough, they will discover that their ancestors were in some way related. The Alter Rebbe takes this one step further. If any two Jews go back to the source they will discover that they have the same spiritual DNA. Our “neighbour” is, in fact, our “brother”. Because of the slice of Divine we all carry deep within, it is impossible to love Hashem without loving each and every Jew, no matter who he is or what he has done. Blood is indeed thicker than water.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5775

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka

[1] The Ramban adds that the rebuker should not expect the rebukee to apologize and to ask for forgiveness,

[2] The word “amit” comes from the word “im”, which means “together with”.

[3] Chafetz Chayim “Lashon Hara” [4:7]

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty-five years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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