ESSAY: Love: A Paradox
He taught them to love, but their love was too absolute
to be true
The Things You See
When to get involved
A TELLING STORY: Field of Expertise
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
Things You See
Do not stand by the blood of your fellow.
... to see him dying, and you are able to
save him; for example, if he is drowning in a river and a
beast or thieves are approaching him.
Rashis commentary, ibid.
A cornerstone in the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem
Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, is the doctrine of
hashgachah pratit, specific divine providence.
Specific divine providence means that not only does G-d oversee
and determine all that transpires in the universe, but that
also every detail and every aspect of every
event is by divine design. If a leaf is torn off its branch
by a wind blowing in a distant forest, and is blown this way
and that before coming to rest on a specific placeit
is because it was so ordained by G-d toward a specific purpose.
The Baal Shem Tov also taught that from everything
that a person sees or hears he is to derive a lesson in his
service of G-d. These two principles are closely related;
indeed, the second is a derivative of the first. If something
happens, and you happen to witness or hear about it, then
both the event and the fact that you have been made aware
of it are by divine providence. The event could have taken
place without your knowledge; so the fact that you have learned
of it is also significant. It must prompt you to understand
something or to do something, otherwise your awareness of
it would have been to no purpose.
Therein lies the deeper meaning of the above-quoted passage
from Rashi. Rashi explains the meaning of the verse Do
not stand by the blood of your fellow by adding the
words to see him dying, and you are able to save him.
But the words and you are able to save him read
more as statement of fact than a clause; it would seem that,
for the sake of clarity, Rashi should have written if
you are able to save him or when you are
able to save him. In truth, however, the very fact that
you see him dying should indicate to you that you are indeed
able to save him. Rashi is saying: Do not hasten to conclude
that there is nothing you can do about your brothers
distress. For if this were indeed the case, to what purpose
would G-d cause you to witness it?
The Spiritual Dimension
Today, we are painfully aware that many of our brethren are
threatened with spiritual extinction, G-d forbid. We see them
drowning in materiality, we see them being devoured by a society
that has lost its G-d and its moral moorings.
This awareness implies a duty and a responsibility: Do
not stand by the blood of your fellow applies no less
to spiritual dangers than to cases of physical jeopardy. It
also carries a divine guarantee: the very fact that you have
been made aware of your fellows plight means that you
are capable of doing something about it.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Kedoshim
5746 (May 10, 1986)
Field of Expertise
A West Coast lumber merchant once came to the previous Lubavitcher
Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, to seek his counsel
and blessing. After addressing the businessmans concerns,
the Rebbe asked him:
How are your children?
Theyre doing great! replied the proud father.
They get high marks in schooltwo regular geniuses!
Theyre sure to be accepted in the top universities...
And what about their Jewish education? Why dont
you sent them to a yeshivah, so that they should grow to be
knowledgeable and pious Jews?
Rebbe... its a different world here, in America.
The neighborhood I live in... their friends... it just wont
The Torah applies to all times and places, insisted
the Rebbe. America is no different. You can, and ought
to give your children a Jewish education.
But the businessman would not relent. The Rebbe argued, cajoled
and berated; still the visitor remained adamant in his refusal
to do his bidding.
I dont understand, the Rebbe finally said.
Neither I, nor my father, ever engaged in business.
Yet you came all the way from California to seek my advise
on your most important business decisions. On the other hand,
regarding the education of your childrenthe field to
which I, and my ancestors, have devoted our entire livesyou
wont do as I say!
Told by the Rebbe, Shabbat Behar-Bechukotai 5710 (May
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. 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.
 Likkutei Sichot, vol.XVI p.527