Ahavas Yisrael as a Preparation for the Giving of the Torah

When bnei Yisrael approached Mt. Sinai, the verse attests: “And (he) Israel encamped there.” Grammatically, the verse should have been expressed in the plural, “And they encamped there.” From the singular expression the Sages explain that when the people encamped at Sinai they were “as one man with one heart”1 — with ahavas Yisrael. A number of reasons are given as to why ahavas Yisrael is a prerequisite to the giving of the Torah:

1. As mentioned above, ahavas Yisrael arouses the essence of the soul, and the giving of the Torah was from the Essence of G‑d to the essence of the soul.2

2. The entire Torah was given to bring peace to the world.3 It therefore follows that the preparation for such an event is unity and peace.4

3. The Torah was given in a desert to indicate that the Torah is of a higher source than the world and above worldly matters. In order to receive the Torah it must be given in a place that is hefker — a no-man’s land where all can acquire it. The prerequisite then is that the Jew should rise above his own ego and make himself like a desert — which is achieved through ahavas Yisrael and ways of peace.5

4. Ahavas Yisrael also increases the potency of learning Torah, as the “cleaving to friends” and “discussions among the students”6 are the ways in which Torah is acquired.7

Ahavas Yisrael as a Preparation for Prayer

At the very beginning of our daily services, many Siddurim quote in the name of the AriZal8 that it is correct to make the following statement:

“I accept upon myself the responsibility to fulfill the positive commandment: ‘Love your fellow as yourself.’”9

Our Sages tell us that when we pray, we should pray with the community. This acceptance of ahavas Yisrael causes one to be included within the community and therefore creates the true act of communal prayer.10

It is interesting that the Alter Rebbe instituted that the statement “I accept upon myself etc.,” be specifically said before prayer rather than accepted in thought11 or feeling.12

A possible explanation:13 As the Alter Rebbe explains in chapter 32 of Tanya, all Jews are united at the soul level, as they are one in their Source. It is only as the souls descend into bodies that differences appear. This is especially so in the time of exile when the Jews are scattered among the nations. It is particularly in this situation that the challenge is greatest to reveal their true essence. For this reason, the Alter Rebbe instituted that the acceptance of ahavas Yisrael — which is a realization of the essence — should be verbalized, for it is necessary that the feelings of ahavas Yisrael not only remain in the realm of thought but are actually brought into the world of action.14

There are in fact many connections between ahavas Yisrael and prayer:15

1. Ahavas Yisrael is the gateway through which one enters in order to stand before the A-lmighty in prayer.16

2. As mentioned above, every soul contains within itself all other souls. Hatred of a fellow Jew causes a division within the soul, which renders a blemish in the soul.17 Such a blemished soul is not readily accepted Above, for the A-lmighty is the source of all souls. Only a wholesome soul that is at peace with all other souls will be well received.18

3. One of the main purposes of prayer is to fulfill the imperative of, “And you shall love the L‑rd your G‑d, etc.” — i.e., ahavas HaShem. As mentioned above, ahavas Yisrael is the vessel for ahavas HaShem.

4. The purpose of prayer is to elevate all echelons of existence, even the most basic levels. It is therefore correct to include oneself before the act of prayer with all Israel, even those who are not on one’s level, even if they are to be found in a far-flung corner of the world and that one has never seen.19

5. Acceptance of the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael also aids in the downward flow and receipt of the Divine influence which is revealed inthe act of prayer. Doing a favor for another causes: 1), that all supernal gates and chambers are opened for him20 (the downward flow); and 2), that his mind and heart become more receptive to receive the revelation.21

6. Most of all, the spirit and feeling of ahavas Yisrael causes a great nachas ruach (a great pleasure) Above, and because of that nachas ruach, G‑d fulfills the requests made in the prayers.22

7. The Mishnah23 states that the request for rain in the prayers was not made until fifteen days after the Succos festival in order “that the last of Israel should reach the river Euphrates,” (i.e., those pilgrims who came from Babylon would have time to return home before the rainy season). This contains a powerful lesson in ahavas Yisrael. Even though the Land of Israel desperately needs rain, the request for rain is delayed so that not even the “last Jew” should be harmed by it.24

A Preparation for Building the MishkanTabernacle

Ahavas Yisrael was an important prerequisite for the building of the Tabernacle in the wilderness. The verse25 tells us: “And Moshe gathered the entire congregation of Israel,” to instruct them to donate materials for the construction. This contribution from the entire congregation constituted the creation of an edifice which united all Israel.26

The construction itself was carried out by Betzalel from the tribe of Yehudah, and Oholiov from the tribe of Dan. These two chief architects represented the greatest and the least significant of the tribes respectively to demonstrate true unity.27

The necessity for this unity was:

1. The whole purpose of “And you shall make for Me a Sanctuary” is so that “I may dwell in their midst.”28 The resting of the Divine Presence — the revelation of the Essence which reveals true Unity — is effected by “And Moshe29 gathered the entire congregation,” i.e.,ahavas Yisrael and achdus Yisrael — Jewish unity — on all levels, both physical and spiritual.30

2. The purpose of the building of the Mishkan was to elevate base material items and transform them into vehicles for G‑dliness. For this reason the Mishkan was made of physical substances, such as silver and gold. The objective, then, was similar to the act of prayer, i.e., to elevate even the lowliest forms of existence.31 Accordingly, it was necessary for the most lowly of the tribes to participate in the construction of the Mishkan. This is analogous to prayer, before which a person must identify himself with the lowliest members of the Jewish people. He does so with the goal of elevating them, afterwards, through his prayer.32