The Foundation of the Entire Torah

Ahavas Yisrael is the foundation of the entire Torah.1 It therefore follows that one should never be lenient in this mitzvah, for in so doing, it would lead to leniencies in other mitzvos.2 Therefore, as the foundation of all mitzvos, ahavas Yisrael should be observed with great strength.3

A number of reasons are given as to the pivotal nature of this mitzvah:

1. The foundation and root of the whole Torah is based on the principle of “elevating the soul over the body.” Only one who truly views the soul as primary and the body as secondary can properly observe the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael.4

2. The foundation and root of the Torah is based on the principle of drawing down the light of the Ein Sof (the infinite light of G‑d) into “Knesses Yisrael,” i.e., the collective entity comprising all the souls of Israel,5 and this is achieved through ahavas Yisrael.6

The fundamental nature of ahavas Yisrael is demonstrated in the Talmudic7 story of the proselyte who approached Hillel and requested that Hillel teach him the entire Torah while the proselyte stood on one foot,8 to which Hillel replied, “What you do not like done unto yourself, do not do unto others — this is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary.”

The meaning behind Hillel’s statement was:

1. The goal of all mitzvos is to reach the level of transcending the attachment to the material nature of this world and to be totally absorbed in the unity of G‑d. This, as stated above, is the essential nature of ahavas Yisrael.

2. Every mitzvah draws Divine light into the world. This diffusion of the light of the Ein Sof is typified by the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael and it therefore exemplifies the nature of all mitzvos. The basis of each mitzvah can therefore be explained by examining the nature of the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael.9

The Chassidic Way of Life

The foundation of the Chassidic way of life is ahavas Yisrael.10 The founder of the Chassidic movement, the Baal Shem Tov, had unlimited ahavas Yisrael11 for all Jews. In the first years of the Baal Shem Tov’s leadership, he called his students “beloved ones,” and because of this, his opponents dubbed them “chassidim.”12 Before the Baal Shem Tov revealed himself, he served as an aide in a cheder, taking the children to and from school. About him the Maggid of Mezeritch once remarked: I wish that I would be able to kiss a Sefer Torah with the same love with which the Baal Shem Tov kissed a child when the child said the aleph-beis.13

In his Tanya, the classic work known as the written law of Chabad philosophy, the Alter Rebbe14 dedicates chapter 3215 to the subject of ahavas Yisrael. Since the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word “lev” (“heart”) is 32,16 this suggests that the “heart” of Tanya, and, in fact, the heart of Chassidic life, is ahavas Yisrael.17

The Rebbe Maharash once said:18

“Of what use is Chassidus and yiras Shamayim, fear of Heaven, if the main thing — ahavas Yisrael — is missing?”

A “chassid” is one who is dedicated to seeking the best for another19 and who gives up personal benefits for another’s good20 even when personal gain is not assured and the benefit for the other is doubtful.21

As an example of the great importance of ahavas Yisrael to the Chassidic way of life, we are told that in the times of the Alter Rebbe, the love between chassidim was so immense that it was like the love between brothers.22 Others who were not from the Chassidic camp admired the fraternity displayed by the chassidim. Despite that, that Alter Rebbe once commented that this fraternity did not reach the level of ahavas Yisrael demanded by the Baal Shem Tov.23

Although ahavas Yisrael exists among all Israel in general and amongst chassidim in particular, it is and must be the specialty of Chassidei Chabad24Lubavitch.25

The Previous Rebbe related in a talk26 how the Mezritcher Maggid wished to be able to kiss a Sefer Torah with the same love that the Baal Shem Tov had for every Jew (see above). The Previous Rebbe then added (also in the name of the Maggid27 ) that if, while he was still living in this world, the Baal Shem Tov would have known that which he knows now (i.e., how much he achieved with his love for all Jews) it would have been totally different!28

The Rebbe Rashab once said: Love is the life-spirit of Chassidus. It is the thread that binds chassidim together, and it is the thread that binds the Rebbe with chassidim and the chassidim with the Rebbe. It has no limitations and it transcends all boundaries of time and place.

It is well known that the Rebbes of Chabad set aside time to contemplate deeply each one of their chassidim, reflecting upon their mutual love. Such “avodah,” even from a physical distance, had the powerful effect of stimulating and arousing the inner powers of those about whom they were thinking.29

Why the Emphasis on ahavas Yisrael?

Why does Chassidus place such an emphasis on the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael?

1. Doing a favor for another in the material world exhibits the unity between the physical and the spiritual realms, because the material belongings of another are considered his spiritual concern. This displays true “achdus HaShem,” unity of G‑d, in that it realizes that both the material and spiritual worlds are all created by One G‑d, which is a fundamental teaching of Chassidus.30

2. As mentioned above, ahavas Yisrael will bring about the final Redemption. The teachings of Chassidus are also a preparation for the coming of Mashiach, as we know from the well-known answer of Mashiach to the Baal Shem Tov that Mashiach will come when the wellsprings of the teachings of Chassidus will be spread forth.31

The way to unlock the inner dimensions of the soul is through the study of Chassidus. And revealing the inner dimension of the soul will reveal the inner dimension of G‑d, which is the revelation of Mashiach. Since the three loves, ahavas Yisrael, HaShem, and the Torah are one, it follows that ahavas Yisrael is central to the Chassidic doctrine which is the revelation of the essence.32