Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov declared:

"A soul may descend to earth and live seventy or eighty years for the sole purpose of doing a favor for another — a spiritual favor, or even a material favor."

The Baal Shem Tov taught:

Love of a fellow is the first gate leading into the palace of G‑d.

To love a fellow is to love G‑d. For "You are children unto the Lord your G‑d" (Deuteronomy 14:1); one who loves a father loves his children.

"Love your fellow as yourself" is an elaboration and elucidation upon "And you shall love the L-rd your G‑d" (Deuteronomy 6:5). When one loves one's fellow one loves G‑d, for one's fellow contains within himself a "part of G‑d above" (Job 31:2). By loving one's fellow, the innermost part of him, one loves G‑d.

Three great Chassidic leaders were famous for their ahavat yisrael ("love of a fellow Jew"): Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, and Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli.

Rabbi Zusha was a living example of the maxim that "Love covers up all iniquities" (Proverbs 10:12). What the ordinary observer would perceive as a glaring deficiency, or even an outright sin, would not "register" in his holy eyes and mind. Rabbi Zusha was simply incapable of seeing anything negative in a fellow Jew

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's ahavat yisrael found expression in his incessant efforts as an advocate for the people of Israel. Unlike Rabbi Zusha, he was not blind to their misdeeds and failings; but he never failed to "judge every man to the side of merit" — to find a justification, and even a positive aspect, in their behavior. (A typical story tells of how, upon noticing a wagon driver who was greasing his wheels while reciting his morning prayers, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak lifted his eyes to Heaven and cried: "Master of the Universe! Behold the piety of Your children! Even as they go about their daily affairs, they do not cease to pray to You!")

But the Baal Shem Tov's love ran deeper yet. To him, ahavat yisrael was not the refusal to see the deficiencies of a fellow, or even the endeavor to transform them into merits, but an unequivocal love regardless of their spiritual state. He loved the most iniquitous transgressor with the same boundless love with which he loved the greatest tzaddik; he loved them as G‑d loves them — as a father loves his children, regardless of who and what they are.