Hillel said that all of Torah is about caring for the other guy, and the rest is all commentary. On the other hand, traditional Judaism says that we must follow all of the commandments to be on G‑d’s good side. I light Shabbat candles when I can, and go to synagogue on Friday or Saturday when I can. I am puzzled—what makes a Jew right with G‑d?


I love getting this sort of question, because it reveals some of the depth and beauty of Torah Judaism. I don’t think that what Hillel said is at odds with traditional Judaism at all. Especially since Hillel obviously was an observant Jew, to say the least.

But first let’s look at what Hillel is asking from us. The Torah says, “Love the other guy just like yourself.” Isn’t that impossible? How can I be expected to really, truly, sincerely and honestly care for someone other than myself, to the same degree that I care for myself? Humans are naturally self-concerned and self-centered, to various degrees and with various justifications.

The answer lies in the fact that essentially, all Jews are really just one soul. We all stem from the same source Above, and it’s only when living as we do, housed in separate bodies, that we lose touch with our innate unity. When we meditate and work on revealing our deep mutual connection to our fellow Jew, we peel away that layer of concealment that is the body and physicality in general, and we are faced with a pure and clear oneness of souls, to the point where caring for me means caring for you. Not because I am such a nice guy, and not because I need to do some community service for my resume, but because I am you and you are me.

So the process of loving one’s fellow as oneself is all about revealing the deeper truth embedded in our existence. And that is exactly what Judaism is all about too. Every mitzvah is a revelation of G‑dly light, tapping into out-of-this world-holiness and bringing it down to earth. Hence, Hillel said “this is the entire Torah,” for this is the core of what Judaism and Jews are all about—linking the Creator with creation and revealing the essence of existence.

(It is often neglected that Hillel ended off by saying “go and learn” . . . Yes it’s commentary, in the sense that it revolves around this stated core, but it’s all-important—an apple core without the apple isn’t much of an apple.)

So, to finally address your question—a Jew is right with G‑d when he is spending the maximum of his or her time, effort and resources in dedication to achieving this mission of revealing the essence of existence. And this is done via the commandments and the Torah, as you mention: lighting Shabbat candles, going to synagogue, and more.