Sruli Fruchter
Sruli Fruchter

Parshiyot Acharei-Kedoshim: The Need for Radical Love

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We live in a world polluted with conflict, anger, and hatred. While these are not the only features of our reality, they have persevered throughout history and are even present today. It leaves us to wonder: What would the world look like if it was built on love? What would our lives be like? Could we ever attain that? While such an idea may at first seem surreal and naively idealistic, Hashem actually entrusts us to build such a world, as seen in Parshiyot Acharei Mot-Kedoshim.

In the parsha, Hashem covers a wide spectrum of mitzvot (commandments) relating to our relationships with others. From charity to honesty in business and respecting one’s parents, the laws detailed instill in us the importance of how we interact with others. There’s one pasuk (verse), however, that demonstrates this most effectively: “Love your fellow as yourself: I am YHVH” (Vaykira 19:18).

The same way we must rest on Shabbat and eat kosher foods, we must also love our fellow people. Nili Salem said that these parshiyot showcase how strict the Torah is in ensuring that we spread kindness, compassion, and positivity to others, which is striking to think about. Imagine if this was felt, embodied, and practiced across the world — could there ever be another war?

Rabbi David Aaron once shared that the premise of that particular mitzvah is that one must love oneself, that in order for one to love their fellow as their self, they must develop a sense of unconditional self-love. In Sifra on Kedoshim, it is said, “‘And you shall love your neighbor as yourself’: Rebbe Akiva says: ‘This is an all-embracing principle in the Torah’” (4:12). Essentially, self-love and love of others encompass an all-embracing principle of the Torah, and that to deny either of them could be tantamount to rejecting the entirety of the Torah altogether!

What could account for this? Why would this be so?

In Pirkei Avot, Rebbe Akiva is also quoted as saying, “Beloved is man for he was created in the image [of God]. Especially beloved is he for it was made known to him that he had been created in the image [of God], as it is said: ‘for in the image of God He made man’ (Bereishis 9:6)” (3:14). Here, Rebbe Akiva seems to attribute the importance of love for all people to the notion that each person was made in the image of Hashem. We do not have the right to deny love to a fellow soul who, just like us, was made in the pristine Divine image.

Returning to our original idea, we see that the teachings of the Torah explicitly tell us why brokenness and divergence still exist: We are missing love. Rav Aaron always says that “Hurting people are hurting people,” and that once love is restored back into someone’s life, they will have no reason to hurt someone else; they’ll be able to love them like they love themselves.

Rav Kook calls for this very shift in order to heal the world. “If we and the world around us became destroyed due to baseless hatred,” he says, “then we and the world around us will be rebuilt because of baseless love” (“Orot HaKodesh” 3, p. 344).[1]

Radical love is what is missing. We need people to love themselves so much that it becomes impossible to contain, and that love will pour outward like an overflowing spring. We must begin this path toward that dream in our own lives. We need to perfect our own self-love and love for others, and then we will draw closer and closer to a world built on love.

[1] Translated with the help of Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz’s “The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” p. 124

About the Author
Sruli Fruchter studied for one year at Yeshivat Orayta and is now studying International and Global Affairs at Yeshiva University. He enjoys writing on a spectrum of topics, specifically on the weekly parsha.
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