BS"D || Rabbi Geier
What is the meaning behind the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself in Judaism? Why is it found in the Kedoshim portion of the Torah?
The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself is considered one of the great commandments of the Torah in Judaism. It is found in this week's parsha, Kedoshim, which is dedicated to the concept of holiness. This commandment is a revolution in the moral life, since it puts love at the center of morality.
The Torah emphasizes the importance of loving your neighbor, and it is a very special form of love, a unique development in the Jewish religion. It is not found in any other passage of the Tanakh. The commandment to love the foreigner is also found in this Torah portion, and is only mentioned once more in Deuteronomy.
The Kedoshim portion also contains other commandments, such as not sowing a field with two types of seeds, not raising two types of animals together, and not wearing clothing made of two types of materials. These commandments are chukim, which are laws that we cannot understand logically.
Judaism was the first civilization to place love at the heart of morality. But why does this commandment appear here, specifically in Kedoshim, a chapter dedicated to the concept of holiness?
And why does the precept to love your neighbor appear in the chapter that contains laws such as: “Do not sow your field with seeds of different types. Do not mate two animals of different types. Do not wear garments made with fabrics of different types of material.”
These are chukim, the kind of commandments whose reason we cannot understand logically. What do they have to do with the obviously moral commandment to love your neighbor? Is it a chapter that contains an unconnected set of commandments, or is there some common thread that ties them together?
The answer is deep. Almost every ethical system conceived so far has sought to reduce the moral life to a single principle or perspective. Some connect it with reason, others with emotion, and still others with consequences: do what brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people possible. Judaism is different. More complex and subtle.
Judaism has three perspectives on morality: the prophetic perspective, the priestly perspective, and the wisdom perspective. The prophetic perspective emphasizes the quality of relationships within society, between people and God, and between people and their neighbors. The key words of the prophets in the Tanakh are righteousness, justice, kindness and compassion, but not love.
The priestly perspective emphasizes the holiness of people and their actions. The priests were responsible for maintaining the sanctity of the community and emphasized ritual purity and sacrifice.
The wisdom perspective emphasizes character and consequence. If you live virtuously, you will generally do well in important matters. Good people love God, family, friends and virtue, but the literature of wisdom does not speak of loving the neighbor or the stranger.
Above all, the holiness ethic tells us that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. God created each of us with love. Therefore, if we seek to imitate God – “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” – we too must love humanity, and not in the abstract, but in a concrete way, our neighbor and the foreigner. The ethic of holiness is based on the view of creation-as-God's-love-work. This vision considers all human beings – ourselves, our neighbor and the stranger – as created in the image of God and that is why we must love them as ourselves.
I believe that there is something unique and contemporary in the ethic of holiness. It tells us that morality and ecology are closely related. Both refer to creation: the world as the work of God and humanity as His image. The integrity of humanity and that of the natural environment go hand in hand. The natural universe and humanity were both created by God, and it is up to us to protect the former and love the latter.
Let's take that commitment from the love that we choose to define for our world.