Ve’ahavta le’Reyacha Kamocha

וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי ה'

You shall love your fellow as yourself, I am Hashem. (19:18)

The straightforward understanding of the concluding phrase, “I am Hashem,” is that it is saying, “I am Hashem Who commands you to fulfil this mitzvah of loving your fellow as yourself.” However, the Meshech Chochmah explains that there are additional ways to understand the connection between this concluding phrase and the mitzvah itself.

We find that in many respects, we can gain an awareness of Hashem from observing both the world around us and our own national experiences:

·      The orderliness of the natural world, with all its processes and cycles, points to Hashem as its Creator and Designer.

·      The existence of man who has free will attests to the free will of his Creator.

·      The miracles experienced by the Jewish people in their formative years, in addition to their continued miraculous existence in spite of all the forces that seek their destruction and demise, attest to Hashem’s ongoing supervision of His people.

Beyond all the above, the unique connection between Hashem and His people is attested to by the special connection that they feel with each other. Wherever they find themselves, Jews look out for one another, establishing groups for communal Jewish activities, and caring for each other’s needs. Indeed, it may be said of them that they embody the miracle that existed in the Beis Hamikdash regarding the column of smoke that rose up from the mizbeyach; in whichever direction the wind would blow it, it would nevertheless stay intact.[1] Likewise, wherever the winds of exile blow the Jewish people, they manage to stay together. What moves them to do this? What connects them to each other wherever they are? It is the Divine presence that resides among them and watches over them.

Thus, our verse states, “You shall love your fellow, I am Hashem.” This means that the underlying and enduring love that Jews feel for each other attests to the fact that “I am Hashem,” Who resides with you and guides and protects you wherever you are.

The second explanation offered by the Meshech Chochmah is that unlike physical love and desire, which are generated by that which a person sees,[2] spiritual love – such as that for Hashem – is a product of the soul’s yearning for closeness to Hashem, even though He cannot be apprehended by the senses. Likewise, a person’s love for his fellow Jew should be based on an appreciation of their common connection with Hashem. If it is, then the person will love not only the fellow Jews that he knows, but all Jews wherever they are, even if he has never seen them. In this respect, his love for the Jewish people draws from – and is thus similar to – his love for Hashem Himself. Hence, the verse commands “You shall love your fellow as yourself, I am Hashem,” meaning that you should love all your fellow Jews in the same way that you love Me, Hashem.

The Meshech Chochmah prefaces his third explanation by describing two levels of love:

1.   The lower level is when one loves someone else in terms of what one can receive from them, which is effectively self-love. This type of love will typically be based on the contrast between the two parties, e.g. a poor man will love someone who is rich, and not someone who is poor like him and from whom he can expect no benefit.

2.   The higher level is when the focus is on the one being loved, appreciating their qualities and achievements. This type of love will specifically exist between two people who are similar, so that, for example, a wise man will admire someone who is also wise.

When it comes to the mitzvah of loving Hashem, since there would seem to be no similarity between mortal man and the Infinite Creator, the only level that would be possible is the lower level, based on what man can hope to receive from Him. However, the Torah says that we should love Hashem “with all of our heart,”[3] implying the higher level. How is this possible? This is the meaning behind the Sages’ statement that the mitzvah to love Hashem is immediately followed by the mitzvah of learning Torah,[4] to teach us that through studying Torah, on can achieve love of Hashem.[5] For Torah study can bring a person to know Hashem’s ways and emulate them, thereby creating a commonality of sorts, which will allow him to love Hashem with Hashem as the focus.

The relevance of the above to the mitzvah of loving one’s fellowman is that one should likewise strive to achieve the higher level, focusing on the other person themselves, and not merely on what one can hope to gain from them. This is the meaning of the Torah saying that you shall love you fellow “kamocha – as yourself,” namely, your love should focus on what your fellow has in common with you, so that the focus can be on them and not on some need that they can supply you with. To this end, the verse concludes “I am Hashem,” as if to say, you shall love them in the same way that you are meant to love Me, and discussed above, and equally, in the same way that I love you. Hashem does not need anything from us, which makes his love us focused on us.

The Meshech Chochmah ends his discussion by saying, “And all of the above approaches are true, both in their general theme, and their particular details. Happy is the person who merits to attain them!”

[1] See Yoma 21b.

[2] See Sotah 8a.

[3] Devarim 6:5.

[4] Ibid. verse 7.

[5] Sifrei Va’eschanan sec. 33.