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Because We’re All One

Because We’re All One

Ahavat Yisrael


Perhaps nothing has been as detrimental to the Jewish people as the modern idea that Judaism is a religion. If we are a religion, then some Jews are more Jewish, others less Jewish, and many Jews are not Jewish at all.

It’s a lie. We are all one. If one Jew eats pork or does work on the Shabbat, G‑d forbid, it’s as if we all transgressed along with him. When the same Jew stretches out his hand to give to a needy soul, to wrap tefillin on his arm or to light a candle before Shabbat—all of us stretch out our arms together.

We are not a religion. We are a soul. A single soul radiating into many bodies, each ray shining forth on its unique mission, each body receiving the light according to its capacity, each embodiment playing its crucial role. Together we compose a symphony with no redundant parts, no instrument more vital than another. And our path back towards that original source of light is through every other ray that extends from it.

A healthy body is one where every part works in harmony. A healthy Jewish people is one big, caring family where each individual is concerned for the other as for his own self. Where one Jew faces rough times and the others hold his hands. Where one meets good fortune and all of us celebrate. Where no one is labeled or alienated for his or her beliefs, behaviors or background. Where each runs to do an act of kindness for the other, and shuts his eyes and ears to the other’s shame.

And if, for whatever reason, one may slight the other, then all is sensibly worked out. Or maybe just forgotten—as the right hand forgives the left for striking it out of clumsiness.

Shouldn’t I Love Everyone?

Some don’t think that Jews should single out other Jews for special treatment. In their minds, there are no subsets of humanity; all distinctions should be erased.

It sounds very nice. Problem is, it has little to do with the realities of human nature. And even less with the nature of real love. If someone ignores his own brother’s needs, what’s behind his kindness to others? First we learn to care for our own family, and then we can truly care for everyone else. This is the path the Torah gives us to reach the ocean beyond our own egos: First find the river of which you are a tributary, the place from where you come, the destiny to which you are headed and the people with whom you share that heritage and journey. And then you will reach beyond.

It works. Even in the ghettos of the Middle Ages, non-Jewish beggars knew to knock first on the doors of the Jews.1 Things haven’t changed much: When the Peace Corps was first founded in America, 40% of those who volunteered were Jews.2 And a 1987 study found that the more a household volunteers for Jewish causes, the more it tends to volunteer for non-Jewish causes as well.3 If we preached universality exclusively, there would be no Jews to volunteer—we would have disappeared long ago, along with our message of social justice to the world.

There’s another reason to start with your fellow Jew: If we do not take care of our own, who will? Perhaps this is the secret of our survival. We are unique in this: to this day, when one Jew hears of another Jew’s plight somewhere across the globe, he identifies with him, feels his pain and is moved to do whatever he can to help.

Practically Speaking

In 1976, the Lubavitcher Rebbe added the mitzvah of Ahavat Yisrael (love for a fellow Jew) to his “mitzvah campaign”—a shortlist of practical actions he proposed with the goal of encouraging every Jew, regardless of his or her degree of religious observance, to do a G‑dly deed. Of course, Ahavat Yisrael had long been a central pillar of Chassidism, and particularly of the Rebbe’s leadership from its very beginning; its inclusion in the mitzvah campaign simply meant that Ahavat Yisrael was not to be something that only chassidim practiced, but a value they actively taught to the world at large.

Here are some of the practical things the Rebbe asked every Jew to do:

  1. Start each morning by saying, “I accept upon myself the mitzvah to love my fellow Jew just as I love myself.”
  2. Speak only good about other Jews. Don’t even listen to a bad word, unless some real benefit will come to this person through your conversation.
  3. Look for opportunities to do another Jew a favor.
  4. Support a Jewish free loan fund.
  5. Bring Jewish people together. Tear down the false barriers of age, affiliation and ethnicity.
  6. Invite other Jews to share in the most precious thing we have—our Torah and our mitzvahs.

From the Sources

Love your fellow as yourself.
Leviticus 19:18

This is a major principle of the Torah.
Rabbi Akiva

The entire Jewish people are a single, perfect whole.

Every morning, before your prayers, commit yourself to love every other Jew as your own self. Then your prayers will be accepted and bear fruit.
Rabbi Isaac Luria, the “Ari”

A soul descends from its place on high and enters this world for seventy or eighty years just to do a favor for another.
—the Baal Shem Tov

Do you hear what they say in the heavenly academy? That to love your fellow Jew means to love the completely wicked just as you love the completely righteous!
—the Maggid of Mezeritch

Labels are for shirts, not for Jews. We serve all Jews equally, with no expectations.
—Popular paraphrase of the Rebbe’s approach

Israel Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (New York: Macmillan, 1919), p. 329.
Robert S. John, Jews, Justice and Judaism (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969), p. 292.
Robert Wuthnow and Virginia Ann Hodgkinson, Faith and Philanthropy in America (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990), p. 135.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Yonit Gefen NY December 16, 2017

This is one of the most inspiring pieces on Ahavat Israel that I have read Today on Chanukah I find myself wishing we had the spirit of the Maccabees today, that Jews acted as one to fight for what we are without a constant need to justify or explain ourselves. Why can’t we? What would it take? Certainly, millennia in diaspora have taken a deep toll but even in Israel our own Jewish country inner national confidence and courage too often eludes us. Like PTSD victims beat down by anti-semitic hatred, as a nation, we are weak, however impressive our individual accomplishments, Like a battered child, deprived of the unconditional love of a home life, who cannot find it within himself to change his circumstances even as an adult, we are a nation that strives for but deprives itself of a country of Jews that despite disagreements love each other without condition. Courage to defend each other as brothers comes only from this’ Ahavat Yisrael.’ When Jews love each other protecting each ot Reply

Anonymous USA July 6, 2015

Chesed is Here to Stay - It is a Reason why Jews are Still Here "Labels are for shirts not Jews. Fifteen years ago I didn't love telling you what my label was. Over time I have enjoyed the label less. I have no need to tell you what I am. If I help you it isn't because of my level of obsvervance. It may be partly bc of the Rabbis I learned from. It is also because of my parents who were very Jewish but not observant. Chesed and goodness doesn't wear a label. Wanting to be kind for the sake of kindness is very real. And it has nothing to do with simply wanting
mitzvas to come back to you. It sometimes is not at all about the afterlife and a great situation later on. Can you be kind just to be kind and not care an iota what you get back? My 10 yr old says no you must get back. What do you expect at 10? Reply

Jack Mann Ohio June 25, 2015

Geneology Do you know of any "Jew" today who could legally qualify the requirements of Numbers 1:18? Since the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. where does one go to verify being a Jew? Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma July 11, 2013

The politics of Hope Hi anonymous w, I see and hear you again, on this site. You are, as always, wise and wonderful. I also resonated to many other comments here. I will say, we're here to discuss, argue, and enter the fires of dialogue. I believe in commentary, as often together we elucidate new ways of seeing the world. We are as important as the article, because we all spark and that is, of course, about Jewish mysticism.

I have to believe that somehow there will be a lasting peace, but I am also very clear, movement towards this, has got to involve us all, as in accord and a chord, and what binds us, the umbilical "cord" has to be G_d. So I see G_d wrote us all into a profound story and that we're dancing together, each of us, having parts of the puzzle and in puzzling out, these mysteries, we move forward, but only when that is determined, by the Master Storyteller, who has scripted into the Book of Life, a Promise. Yes, I believe it's going to happen. Hope floats. Reply

Mordechai Toronto/Yerushalayim July 11, 2013

We may each have our own day job in this world, and each have our own people that are especially near to us who we have greater responsibility to look after, but at the same time we need to always know and nurture our awareness of this - that we are all truly one, and we must love each other as our very selves with everything we've got. “One should accustom themselves to cause the love of all human beings to enter their heart. Also the broken and hurtful (p.s. we're all broken at times : ) should be viewed as our siblings. What’s more, we should continue until love for all human beings is fixed in our heart.” (R. Moshe Cordovero). Reply

Tzvi Freeman July 22, 2012

Re: Great article but not entirely accurate... Moe, you and your relatives can still stay on good terms, even if they can't attend these simchas. There's no reason to take it personally. They certainly don't mean it that way. Sadly, Jews broke apart in the practice of halacha over the last 200 years. It was this commonality of halacha that allowed us to stick together. Shabbat, kashrut, mikvah--yes, they can be challenging, but these are the elements that united and preserved us despite all of our differences. Until we have this all ironed out, we can still do our best to hold on to one another. Reply

Anonymous w July 20, 2012

good question July 19, 2012 My vote goes with Endless Wars, and forever in bondage to what's age old.

It may not be a popular vote and lacks hope.

At what point in history of the world, or in Torah has there been no war, no territorial fight, no claim to power ? Man is intrinsically an aggressive breed of animal. No matter how hard we might try to breed it out, if that were at all possible, man's heart would probably stop and the brain would cease to function. At that time boundaries would be respected, and of course that is too late.

I am sure that there is a more positive view. I don't see it. Unfortunately no one has a crystal ball, so the same old beat goes on.

Like i said, our enemies define us and our enemies are not going to disappear. Islam is growing in influence and numbers. That is scary.

Sephard, Reform and Chabad, do they not fight each other for our minds ? The answer is, yes they do. Look no further than Israeli religious politics.

Open to speculation. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma July 19, 2012

Boundaries I think in life we have a situation that crosses experience as in, Where do we draw the boundaries? I agree there is nothing that bonds people together more than a feeling of injustice and wars that have to do with boundaries and who owns what, and who is right and who is wrong. We see boundary disputes everywhere, and in ethics this is an ongoing discourse.

Where do we draw, the line? And how? And who is right and who is wrong? We have in life people who define their beliefs by the lines they draw around such questions, and sadly, hatred is the conflagration that results when the heat is just too great, and then people suffer, on both sides of the line.

Can we cross those lines? Can we keep our individuality and still respect boundaries and each other? What boundaries do we need to keep to maintain individuality and sense of identiy, self and history? These are deep and perhaps endless questions.

End War or Endless Wars?

Can we bond or are we forever in bondage to what's age old? Reply

Anonymous w July 19, 2012

Robert MN July 17, 2012 For me the best definition of a Jew is defined by our enemies, and that is when Jews really come together, and love each other. It may take the barrel of a gun, but that is when it happens. 1967 Six Day War and 1993 Yom Kippur War iare good examples. I wasn't around for the Holocaust but there is lots of proof of love of a fellow Jew.

Our enemies define us as follows : No classification necessary, a Jew is a Jew.

Hope this helps. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma July 18, 2012

what is ONE I believe the entire world is an interconnected matrix and that we are all of us parts of the ONE great soul. Many, Jews and non Jews have written about this. It's the "UBER" soul that is G_D and we are parts of Divinity, so in saying NAMASTE, we recognize the divine in each other, and to divine this, meaning understand this concept, perhaps takes a journey of soul. And YES, Israel is ONE, and as Jews we are diverse and also ONE, but I would say the FAMILY of man encompasses everyone on this planet, and this includes ALL Creation. The anima within is soul and what animates soul is a profound connection to the SOURCE. Some see this and some do not.

This is my answer about Ahavat Israel. But this might not be the answer of this author. I would say G_d is the final Author and Authority of all of our days.

We are all downloading from The Source, and our deepest task is to separate out words of cruelty, hatred and the non celebration of the sacred from what is true, yet it's all G_D. Reply

Diane Moriarity New Port Richey, FL.USA July 17, 2012

Jew Are One Very Inspiring. Reply

Robert Stillwater, MN July 17, 2012

Ahavet Israel? When you say "we" are are all one - do you mean those who are Jews? I refer back to my original comment that hasn't been answered yet, "Who is a Jew" Only those who have a genetic lineage where religion is not necessarily factor? Is a Jew strictly cultural? Can a Gentile be converted into Judaism? What about the 10 lost tribes. Could I unknowingly be an Israelite yet not specifically a Jew? Just wanting to know. Are we all at the core "One", or is it strictly reserved for Jews. If so, please define who is a Jew. Thanks! Reply

ruth housman marshfield, ma July 17, 2012

Ahavat Israel I had a moving experience last summer in attending several days at a 'Klezmer Camp' in the Laurentians. It was an experience that threw me back in time as many of the voices, songs and history and also the performers harked back to another era. This was an exquisite Jewish experience which made me and my husband weep and deeply feel our Jewish roots. So Yes, Ahavat Israel. Identity is a River and we are all connected as one soul with many songs, divergent, strong, and at the core One. Reply

Moe Green Baltomre, MD July 17, 2012

Great article but not entirely accurate... In theory we are one. However as a conservative Jew one learns the Lubavitch relatives cannot attend our children's Bar Mitzvah's, Namings, as Hasidic Jews cannot enter our shuls. Are we really one? I go where I am asked and honored as a guest but others cannot do the same. Reply

Irene Glen Burnie, MD USA July 17, 2012

Because we are all one True being a Jew is not a religion. But traditions are. There is a difference in being righteous and being traditional. Following G-d is not a religion; doing what he ask of us is not a religion..

But a continuing pattern of culture beliefs, legends, or practices that G-d Himself did not command, is a religon. Following G-d is a Way of Life, not a religion or a tradition.

Loving people, forgiving their faults, only speaking kind words, helping people, these are a few things that G-d desires from us. This is following G-d, a way of life He intended for all of us.

This is my thought. G-d's blessings on all of G-d's children, especially to the Jews first, for if it wasn't for them, we gentiles would not have know the goodness of HaShem. Thank you. Reply

Mr. Alexander Arav via July 17, 2012

Judaism is not a religion Thank you, for a wonderful article.
Defining Judaism as a religion will only hinder the understanding of our faith.
Judaism is so much more, to the world and to us. Reply

Anonymous Round Lake, IL July 16, 2012

Judaism is not a religion like the Catholic religion, it is way of life. When God took the Jewish people out of Egypt, he made it clear that there will be a distinction between his people and the Egyptians. God, gave the Jewish people the Torah in order to live a holy life. God, said to the Jewish people, " I am holy, you must (also)remain holy." Rabbi Freeman, is correct, we are one soul and therefore, we should love our fellow jew like our own self. Reply

Anonymous Walkersville, MD July 16, 2012

Thank you for this message. it will be a great help to me'. Reply

Michelle UK July 16, 2012

thanks this was a blessing to read and to understand. sometimes i wonder how 'on earth'! we manage to be 'a' part and form 'a part' of a whole this goes some way to explain many lines of thoughts and levels of sight and vision for all of us. may the Almighty continue to bless you in His service and sharings of Torah based wisdom through which all (Jew and Non Jew) can find clarification and shine Praise all Reply

L Windsor Torrance, CA via May 5, 2012

False barriers - bringing people together? Thank you, Rabbi,

You write:

5) Bring Jewish people together. Tear down the false barriers of age, affiliation and ethnicity.

What is your opinion about gay Jews? Aren't they being excluded in many ways? Reply