Previously, we began outlining the parameters of the commandment of ‘love thy neighbor’. We discussed how we should desire that other people succeed in life and feel pain at their difficulties. The Talmud discusses further the requirements of this commandment. It tells us of a great Rabbi, Hillel, who was the leader in his generation. A non-Jew who wanted to convert to Judaism came to him, and asked that Hillel teach him the single most fundamental principle in Judaism. Hillel answered him, “do not do to your friend that which is hateful to you.” In the Torah this command is expressed in the positive sense – “love thy neighbor”, however Hillel emphasized the negative aspect of not hurting others.
Most of us have good intentions towards others, we want to help them and certainly do not want to cause them pain. However, all too often, we are responsible for hurting their feelings or harming them in some way. Hillel teaches us that one of the most basic principles underlying inter- personal relationships is developing a sensitivity to the feelings of others. A good way of doing this is to think about what things cause us pain, and then develop an awareness of how those things can bother our friend. For example, we often like to joke around about our friends, this can be harmless but it can and often does upset the other person – most of us, deep down, do not like it when others make fun of us, so how must our friend feel when we do it to him?!
You may ask, there are some things that do not bother me, but may bother my friend – must I also be sensitive to them? The answer is, ‘yes’ – each of us have our own attitudes and sensitivities – Hilllel was teaching us that just like we expect our friends to be receptive to our unique needs, so too we should do the same for our friend.
We can now more easily understand why Hillel said that not hurting others is such a fundamental principle in Judaism. The root cause of an inability to develop a relationship with Hashem is self-absorption. If a person only cares about his own feelings and his way of looking at the world, then he will be unable to accept Hashem’s ‘opinions’ about life as expressed in the Torah. In contrast, a person who is not totally caught up in himself and can relate to the feelings of other people can also more easily accept that his outlook on life is not the only viable one. He will be more willing to step out of his own self and try to understand how Hashem ‘views’ the world.
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen and Torah.org