The obligation to "love your fellow as you love yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) is one of the better known but least understood responsibilities.
It is relatively easy to love everyone in the abstract, but this obligation is more than an abstraction. It is a concrete imperative that must be taken seriously. The Sages considered this mitzvah as subsuming the entire Torah (see Talmud - Shabbat 31b).
A necessary step preceding love is the elimination of hatred for others. Hatred gives birth to so many ills, including evil talk, the desire for bad to befall the hated one, delight in an enemy's downfall. An enemy is defined as anyone to whom one has stopped talking for three days because of harbored animosity (see Sefer Chareidim).
If you love some people but hate others, the nature of the love is deemed deficient. The fact that hatred reigns within one's heart means that the love that is extended is a self-serving love. The presence of hatred means that one judges others based on how they relate to oneself rather than unconditionally accepting all people as they are.
The obligation to love is not an obligation to love those whom we choose to love. It is an obligation to love everyone. Hatred stands in the way of fulfilling this obligation and must be eradicated. We should hate the evil, but not the evildoer, save for the very embodiment of evil that is manifest by certain cruel individuals and groups.
THE SUCCESS OF OTHERS
After eliminating hatred, how does one go about fulfilling this responsibility to love? Taken literally, this mitzvah is beyond human capacity. To love everyone as one loves oneself literally means that before we dress and eat in the morning, we must dress and feed the entire world, and all this after having not gone to sleep the previous night without assuring that everyone has a place to sleep. No human being can do this. No one has the time, the strength, or the resources. It is impossible.
What is possible is something less demanding, but quite meaningful. It is to praise others, to respect their property as if it were your own, to desire the honor of your fellow as you desire your own honor, to rejoice in the achievements of others and to empathize with them in their failures, and to always speak in a calm, respectful manner (Sefer Chareidim, quoting Maimonides).
These attitudes and behaviors do not cost money, should not dissipate energy, and certainly are not time-consuming. They are doable, but not easy.
Take, for example, the requirement to rejoice in the success of others. We may not like to admit it, but it is difficult to rejoice in the success of others, especially when the others are in direct competition with us. Someone who sees everyone else not as a competitor, but as a partner in improving the world, is functioning on a most exalted level. At that level, we see others' achievements not as a blow to our own ego, but rather as an enhancement of God's world. Since we are all in this endeavor to enhance God's world together, every success of others by definition becomes our own success.
FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN NEED
Another doable aspect of "Love your fellow as you love yourself" is to praise others. This requires one to adjust one's mindset to look for the good things in others, to find this good, and then to convey praise to others for the good that is in them.
Like rejoicing in the success of others, this is an obligation that costs nothing but demands much effort. Just as delighting in the success of others is not so easily achieved, so is praising others not so easy.
However, this aspect of the mitzvah addresses a fundamental human need. Besides food, shelter, and clothing, people need to feel they are part of the world, that they are noticed, that they matter, that they are appreciated.
It is nice to feel a part of the world, and even nicer if that feeling is rooted in tangible contributions to the world, so that the feeling is more than an illusion. Since we know how much better we feel when we are acknowledged, it behooves us to acknowledge others and thereby make them feel good. In modern psychological jargon, this may be understood as reinforcing their self-esteem, but the exercise is more profound than good psychology.
Making others feel good by saying complimentary things to them energizes them to be even more worthy of good comments and establishes the character of the person conveying the positive thoughts as a caring, sensitive soul with a healthy focus on the well-being of others.
While the words of the mitzvah, "Love your fellow as you love yourself," are no secret, the true meaning and ramifications of the obligation are not well known and certainly not well entrenched.
Excerpted with permission from
"BEST-KEPT SECRETS OF JUDAISM"
Published by: Targum Press, Inc. http://www.targum.com.