In this week’s parsha we encounter the wellknown and important command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. Much has been said and written about this mitzvah, and about the best way to fulfill it. An interesting interpretation is provided by Rabbi Meir-Simha of Dvinsk, known as the Meshekh Hokhma.
The Meshekh Hokhma discusses two kinds of love that exist in the world. There is love that is dependent on something, and there is love that is not dependent on anything. To his view, love that is dependent on something actually arises from self-love. Thus, for example, we may consider a poor person who loves his wealthy benefactor: he loves himself, and would like to have everything that the wealthy man has. His love for his benefactor arises from the fact that the latter provides everything that he lacks, and takes care of him; were it not for this, the poor man would not “love” this person as he does.
The second type of love arises from a relationship of equality with the other: a person loves someone else because he respects him and admires him for who and what he is; not because of anything that the person provides. An example is the love between a husband and wife: the husband does not love his wife because she fulfills his needs, but rather because they are equal in status and in their regard for one another. This is true love for another person. When each party sees the other as being of equal worth then there is truly love for the other person; it does not arise from the fulfillment of some lack in oneself or from self-love.
This, according to the Meshekh Hokhma, is what the command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” comes to teach us. When a person regards his fellow as being on the level of “as yourself” – i.e., equal to himself in value, then the love between them will be a love of equals – a love that is not dependent on something. But if a person considers himself to be superior to his fellow, on a higher level, then there is no real love for the other person, but rather self-love that is based on something.
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” – the emphasis is on the idea of “as yourself”. A person may love another person in many ways, and for many different reasons. The true love that Hashem commands us to feel for every fellow Jew is dependent on how we regard others. If we see them “as ourselves” – every person just as unique and significant as I am – then there is real love for the other, rather than self-love that masquerades as love for him. Every individual is required to participate in the communal effort to inculcate a mutual attitude of equality between people; this effort will lead to real love. But so long as we regard others as inferior, less worthy, then even if we think we love them, we are really loving only ourselves. Therefore the Torah commands, “as yourself” – of equal worth, exactly as yourself!