In this week’s Torah portion we have the famous commandment; “Love your fellow as yourself.” This commandment is most appropriate to focus upon at this time of the year, the days of counting the Omer, when we mourn the death of the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died in the plague, because they did not act with respect to each other.
Regarding this commandment, we have a teaching from Rabbi Akiva, that “‘Love your fellow as yourself’ is the general rule of the entire Torah.” Similarly, the Talmud relates the story of the sage Hillel who was asked by a prospective convert to teach him the whole Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel replied, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary.”
These statements about the centrality of the commandment to “Love your fellow” needs to be understood. The Torah consists of two type of commandments, those that relate to the relationship between man to man and those that relate to the relationship between man and G-d. So how can the dictum of “Love your fellow” be central to the commandments between man and G-d?
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, author of the book on mysticism called “Tanya”, explains it as follows: Man consists of two forces, a human animalistic soul, that is primarily concerned that the person have the maximum enjoyment in life and the other force which is a highly, G-dly soul that sees beyond itself and it is innately pious. In order for a person to love his fellow, even in the case when he does not receive any benefit from the other person, he needs to be in touch with his higher soul. This is also the general purpose of the Torah: to connect us to our higher self. Thus the dictum of “Love your fellow as yourself” is the central point of the entire Torah.