Love God and Your Neighbor as Yourself

How do we love our fellow? The answer lies in how we love God.


MitzvotJul 8, 2021

MitzvotJul 8, 2021


(Image: Nina Strehl, Unsplash)

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If you’ve been journeying along with us through Jesus, My Rabbi, you’re probably getting to know a side of Jesus that you’ve never encountered before: Jesus the Rabbi.

As a rabbi, Jesus interpreted the Scriptures in new and innovative ways. An impressive example of his ability to interpret the Scriptures like a rabbi is found in his teaching on the greatest commandment:

A lawyer asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-39)

Jesus tells us that the entire Torah depends upon our love of God and fellow human beings. The rabbis, as Jesus did, also understood the immense importance of these two commandments. Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus, famously taught, “What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor, this is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary [1].” Likewise, a few generations after Jesus, Rabbi Akiva taught, “‘Love your neighbor as yourself” this is the greatest principle of the Torah.” Meaning, the entire Torah should be filtered through the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. [2]

While the rabbis saw these two commandments as foundational principles of the Torah, only Jesus clearly contrasted them. In the gospel passage, Jesus employed a classic Jewish method of interpretation known as a Gezira Sheva to draw the crowd’s attention to the similarity between the two commandments [4]. Accordingly, a single word shared by two verses is contrasted to show their legal similarities. In the gospel story, Jesus contrasts the word ואהבת (v’ahavtah, “and you shall love”) in the two verses to show us that the Torah commands us to love our neighbor in the same way we are commanded to love God: with all our heart, soul, and mind. But how do we go about loving our neighbor with all our heart, soul, and mind? Luckily, our Rabbi taught us exactly how to do this, as the rest of the blog will broadly explore.

Heart

Loving God in good times is easy. However, loving him when life is hard is difficult. Despite the various troubles that life brings us, the rabbis taught that loving God in both the good and bad times is required for all God-fearing people. Likewise, loving people when they treat us well is easy. Like the rabbis who taught that we must always love God, Jesus taught that we must love all people, even our enemies:

I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:44-45)

Soul

“With all your soul” This means even if God were to take your life from you. Indeed, the scripture says, “Yet for your sake we are killed all day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” (Psalm 44:22). (Sifri Devarim 32) [4]

This tradition developed during intense Roman persecution of the Jewish and Christian communities. According to one rabbinic legend, [5] Rabbi Akiva viewed his martyrdom at the hands of the Romans as a fulfillment of the commandment to “love God with all your soul.” Just as the rabbis taught that at times our love for God might require us to give up our lives for him, Jesus taught us that the love we show our brothers and sisters in Messiah will at times require us to give our lives for theirs. According to our Rabbi, Jesus, this is the highest expression of love for our fellow: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Might

Might is measured by physical strength and mental agility. Might can also be measured by our financial strength. A man with seemingly limitless resources is certainly “mightier” than a man with few resources. In this vein, the rabbis taught that loving God with all our might means with both our physical and mental strength but also with our financial strength.

Our Rabbi taught us to store up treasures in heaven by giving to the poor: “Sell everything you own and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me” (Luke 18:22).

Here, Jesus teaches us to love people with all “our might” by viewing our money as secondary to the treasure we store up for ourselves in heaven through acts of charitable love shown to our fellow.

On These the Entire Torah Depends

Jesus ends his answer to the lawyer’s question about which commandment is the greatest by stating, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Jesus’ answer does not mean that these commandments replace God’s law. On the contrary, Jesus was using a standard Jewish formulation to teach that these commandments are the source—the bedrock upon which the entire Torah stands. Thus, one could argue that, according to Jesus, the only reason we have the entire Torah and merit to observe its commandments is on the merit of these two major commandments—to love God and to love our neighbor.

Footnotes:
  1. b.Shabbat 31a. Hillel’s statement is sometimes contrasted negatively with Jesus’ words, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). The argument is, why would I want someone to do something to me that they like? What if I don’t like what they like? However, Jesus’ command to “do unto others” is a perfectly fine Jewish maximum. Chizukni’s (Rabbi Hezekiah ben Manoh 1250-1310) words are nearly identical to Jesus’: “‘Love your neighbor as yourself” meaning, do good to him as you would like for him to do to you” (Chizukni Parsha Kedoshim 19:8). Likewise, Sforno (R’ Ovadiah Sforno 1468-1550) wrote, “Love your neighbor as yourself, “whatever you would like your fellow to do to you were you in his place.”
  2. Sifri Devarim 32. This is how R’ Akiva’s teaching is interpreted in Korban Aharon. See also, Kli Yikar Leviticus 19:18.
  3. Literally, “Deriving equivalency.” The usage of Gezira Sheva in rabbinic literature is extremely complex. For example, around twenty pages are devoted to it in the fifteenth-century commentary on the Taanic work, Sefra, called Korban Aharon. The complexity is partly due to the similarity to another rabbinic method of interpretation called Binyan Av (prototype), in which a word in one verse is used as the “prototype” by which all other verses containing the same word are interpreted. The matter is further confounded when one realizes that the usage of Gezira Sheva changes with each generation of rabbinic scholarship!
  4. All translations are my own.
  5. b.Brachot 60b.
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About the Author: Jeremiah Michael is pursuing a degree in rabbinic literature from a university in Israel. His desire is to bring a greater understanding of Jewish literature to Messianic Judaism. Jeremiah lives in Israel with his wife and children. More articles by Jeremiah Michael