Love your fellow as yourself
This is a fundamental principle in the
The Talmud relates that Rabbi Akiva had twenty-four thousand
disciples, but because they did not respect each other,
a plague broke out in which they all perished. It is for this
reason that the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot are
a time of mourning, for it was in this period that Rabbi Akivas
The most famous of Rabbi Akivas teachings is the saying:
Love your fellow as yourselfthis
is a fundamental principle in Torah. One would therefore expect that Rabbi Akivas disciples
would be the foremost exemplars of this principle; how was
it that they, of all people, were deficient in this area?
But it was their very diligence in fulfilling the precept
Love your fellow as yourself that was their undoing.
Our sages have said that Just as every persons
face differs from the faces of his fellows, so, too, every
persons mind differs from the minds of his fellows.
When the twenty-four thousand disciples of Rabbi Akiva studied
their masters teachings, the result was twenty-four
thousand nuances of understanding, as the same concepts were
assimilated by twenty-four thousand minds, each unique and
distinct from its 23,999 compatriots. Had Rabbi Akivas
students been less concerned with each others welfare,
this would have been a matter of minor concern; but because
each disciple loved his fellows as he loved himself, he felt
himself duty-bound to correct their erroneous
thinking and enlighten them as to the true meaning of their
masters words. For the same reason, they found themselves
incapable of expressing a hypocritical respect
for each others views when they sincerely felt that
the others understanding was lacking, even in the slightest
A Dual Lesson
The greater a person is, the higher the standards by which
he is judged; in the words of our sages, With the righteous,
G-d is exacting to a hairsbreadth. Thus, what for people of our caliber would be
considered a minor failing had such a devastating
effect upon the disciples of Rabbi Akiva. But our sages chose
to record this story for posterity; indeed, it has been fixed
in our lives by a series of laws that govern our behavior
in the weeks between Passover and Shavuot each year. Obviously,
we, too, have something to learn from what happened to Rabbi
The lesson is a twofold one: we must learn from their virtues
as well as from their mistakes. We must learn to care enough
for our fellow man not to indulge his errors and accommodate
his failings; this might be the easiest and most socially
comfortable way to behave, but, rather than tolerance,
it bespeaks an indifference toward his welfare. On the other
hand, we must never allow this to lessen in the slightest
our respect and esteem toward him, no matter how misguided
and unresponsive he might be.
If this seems paradoxical, it is. But regarding ourselves,
it is a paradox with which we are quite comfortableevery
psychologically healthy person loves himself and, at the same
time, incessantly strives to improve himself. So it is a paradox
that we must also cultivate in our relationship with others.
To either temper our efforts to enlighten and better our fellow
man out of respect for his views and feelings, or to allow
these efforts to compromise our love and respect for him,
is to fail to love him as we love ourselvesa principle
which Rabbi Akiva considered fundamental to G-ds blueprint
for life and of which Hillel said: This is the entire
Torah; the rest is commentary.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Iyar 17, 5744 (May 19,
1984), and on other occasions
. Talmud, Yevamot 62b; Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach
. Torat Kohanim on Leviticus 19:18.
. Midrash Tanchuma, Pinchas 10.
. Talmud, Yevamot 121a.
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XXXII, pp. 149-152.