18You must love your fellow as yourself: The Torah commands us to love our fellow Jew and to love God.1 (It also commands us to love converts,2 in order to make it clear that the commandment to love our fellow Jew also includes them.)

The followers of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi once asked him: “Which mode of worship is greater—love or God or love of one’s fellow?” He replied: “Love of God and love of one’s fellow are both engraved upon the soul of every Jew. Yet the Torah states an unqualified verse: ‘I love you, says God’3—so love of one’s fellow is greater, since one loves the loved one’s beloved.”4On another occasion he said: “ ‘Love your fellow as yourself’ is the vessel for ‘Love God, your God.’ ”5Also: “The commandment to love your fellow Jew applies even to a Jew whom you have never seen.”6

According to the Talmud,7 our love for a fellow Jew must extend even to a criminal facing capital punishment, whom we are to execute in the least humiliating way because of our love for him.8 (Indeed, according to some opinions,9 the Hebrew word for “your fellow” [רעך] is to be understood as meaning “your wicked one.”) Similarly, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero says that “one should accustom oneself to introduce the love for humanity into one’s heart, even for the wicked, as if they were even closer than brothers.”10

Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk, a student of the Chasidic master Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch, told the following to his brother, Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli: “One evening, when it was my turn to attend to our teacher, I heard his voice calling to me from his room. I entered his room and he said to me: ‘Meilech, do you hear what they are saying on high? Love for a fellow means to love the completely wicked just as one loves the completely righteous.’ ”11

We will note later12 that inasmuch as an emotion cannot be compelled, the commandment to love God actually means to contemplate ideas that lead to the love of God. The same applies to loving our fellow Jew: In order to summon sentiments of love for total strangers, especially for those whose deeds are less than attractive, we should contemplate, firstly, the fact that we are all God’s precious children.13

The Roman general, Tinius Rufus, asked Rabbi Akiva: “If your God is a lover of the poor, why does He not sustain them?” Rabbi Akiva answered that God allows us to earn merit when we sustain the poor. The general then challenged Rabbi Akiva with a parable: “A king who is angry with his servant sends him to prison and orders that no one feed him. One man goes and feeds him. When the king hears of this, will he not be angry? And you [Jews] are called ‘servants [of God]’!” Rabbi Akiva retorted with a parable of his own: “A king who is angry with his son sends him to prison and orders that no one feed him. One man goes and feeds him. When the king hears of this, will he not send the man a gift? And we are called ‘children [of God]’!”14

Secondly, being that we all share the same Father, we are all siblings, not strangers. We can therefore love our fellow as ourselves, since our siblings are just as much our parents’ children as we are—even if they do not act accordingly.

Thirdly, inasmuch as the Father that all we share is God, it follows that since God is one—meaning that He is one, non-composite essence and is not divided into “parts”—then in our ultimate source, we are also one, and there are no differences between us. Therefore, the more we train ourselves to perceive the true essence of things rather than their appearances, the more we perceive our fellow Jews as one and the same as ourselves. From this perspective, we will naturally “love our fellows as ourselves,” since we and they are one and the same. In this context, considering our fellow Jews siblings is not an end—inspiring us to overlook their faults just as familial love makes us overlook our siblings’ faults—but a means—encouraging us to abstract our perspective on our fellow Jews even further, leading us to see them and ourselves as part of the same Divine essence.15

This level of abstraction transcends what “they are saying on high”—i.e., that we must love the completely wicked just as we love the completely righteous—for at this level, there is no distinction between one Jew and the next, and whether one is righteous or wicked is immaterial. Without this level of abstraction, however, it is hard to love someone “as ourselves,” since the reality of the physical distinction between us (and all the other differences attributable to the physical distinction) will always interpose itself.

This explains how Hillel, when asked by a prospective convert to teach him the whole Torah while standing on one foot, could answer, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary.”16 It is easy enough to understand how all of the Torah’s social commandments can be reduced to the love of one’s fellow, but how can all its commandments that do not relate to one’s relationship with others be reduced to this commandment?17 The answer is that this commandment can be fulfilled only if we elevate our perspective to that of the Divine soul; this elevation is indeed the goal of all of the Torah’s commandments.18

Finally, once we have abstracted our consciousness to the level at which we perceive everything’s essence rather than its manifestation, this consciousness, if properly nurtured, can be made to pervade all aspects of our lives, including the incidental ways in which our souls are manifested in our individual lives. The essence of the soul, after all—being a “part of God”—is not subject to limitations, including the dichotomy between essence and manifestation. In other words, living with the consciousness of our soul’s Divine essence enables us to see each other’s essence even while remaining fully conscious of our differences. The physical manifestation of ourselves as different entities no longer interposes itself between us; the body no longer obscures the soul. We can love our fellows as ourselves even while fully aware of the physical difference that would otherwise divide us.

This consciousness is similar to that which will pervade reality in the messianic future, but it can be savored even now, as a foretaste of the imminent Redemption.19

19 You must observe My rules: This verse discusses three types of forbidden mixtures: crossbreeding animals, crossbreeding plants, and weaving wool and linen together in one garment. Of these three, the first two are absolute—i.e., the Torah never permits them—whereas the latter is mandated in the priestly garments20 and is permitted in a garment bearing ritual tassels (tzitzit).21

This distinction may be understood in light of the differences between the two types of prohibitions. The prohibition against combining fibers seems illogical,22 since the two types of fibers do not merge to form a new type of fiber; even after they are woven or pressed together, it is possible to unravel them and undo the combination. The prohibition against crossbreeding, on the other hand, seems logical: God created many different species and commanded them to remain distinct;23 by tampering with them, we are disturbing the order of creation, bringing new, different, hybrid entities into being.24 It thus makes sense that this can never be allowed.

On the other hand, fusing two entities into a new one seems to be the ultimate reconciliation of opposites, the true achievement of the peace and unity that we are working for and that will characterize the messianic future. Why, then, does God insist on boundaries and the integrity of species?

The answer is twofold. First of all, the peace and unity we aspire to is not the dissolution of everything’s unique identity into a nondescript pool of homogeneity. Rather, the goal is for every created entity to retain its God-given identity and still function harmoniously with every other created entity, which has also retained its God-given identity. This is the true manifestation of transcendent Divinity, the paradoxical reconciliation of opposites as opposites.

Second, the possibility of unity is a function of context. In the context of holiness, unity of opposites is possible and desirable, because heightened awareness of God engenders selflessness, and only if opposites are selfless can they blend harmoniously. Conversely, in the context of creation—which by definition is the realm of self-awareness and self-orientation—unity of opposites is not possible and therefore not healthy; trying to blend them artificially will only lead to clashes and chaos.

Therefore, it is only the mixture of fibers that can possibly be allowed, because they each retain their discrete identities even when combined. But even so, their mixture is only allowed in the environment of the Temple, where God’s presence is openly revealed, or in the context of performing God’s commandment to affix ritual tassels on four-cornered garments, for in these two contexts, the forces they represent lose their self-assertion in the experience of God’s presence, as we have seen previously.25 Outside of these contexts, however, their mixture is forbidden.

In contrast, crossbreeding plants or animals is precisely the type of mixture that frustrates God’s purpose in creation, since the original species lose their unique identity in the formation of the new breed. With such a mixture, the issue of context is irrelevant, and therefore there is no instance of crossbreeding permitted by the Torah.26

A Closer Look

[19] Pressed, woven, or twisted: The word that encompasses these three terms is sha’atnez (שעטנז), which is taken as an acronym formed out of their consonants (שוע, טווי, נוז).

23 And you plant there any tree that produces fruit that can be eaten as food: The Midrash notes that God’s first act after creating the world was to plant the Garden of Eden,27 and that this verse implies that the same is expected of the Jewish people; upon arriving in the Land of Israel, agricultural planting was to be their first endeavor.28

The importance given to planting stresses the centrality and fundamental psychological position of agriculture in civilization in general, as well as in spiritual life. Just as trees and plants constantly bear fruits, so too, we may not act in a contextual vacuum. We must full our Divine mission in a manner that bears fruit—that affects ourselves and others in a lasting and meaningful way.29

23-25Its fruit must be blocked from your use for three years…:All the Torah’s commandments are aimed at rectifying the primordial sin, but in the case of this commandment, the association is explicit. Adam, as we know,30 was created on Friday afternoon and was immediately issued his first commandment: not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge.31 From the perspective of the Midrash (which both differs from and complements that of the contextual meaning of the text), this commandment was to remain in effect for only three hours, until the Sabbath, at which time Adam was to use this fruit to sanctify the Sabbath. (Thus, from the perspective of the Midrash, the forbidden fruit was the grape rather than the fig.32) Unfortunately, Adam yielded to his impetuous desire to rectify reality on his terms rather than muster the modicum of patience and self-control that he was asked to demonstrate: He ate of the fruit before sundown, thereby precipitating the existential fall of reality we are working to rectify to this very day. In order to rectify his sin of refusing to wait three hours, we are required to wait three years before we partake of any tree-fruit. By treating the fourth-year fruit in a holy manner[myw1] ,33 eating it in the holy city of Jerusalem as an act of praise to God, we rectify the fact that Adam did not first taste the fruit as part of his sanctification of the Sabbath.34

Whereas the fruit of the first three years is forbidden and the fruit of the fourth year is holy, the fruit of the fifth year is simply mundane. Yet the Torah states that the purpose of the entire process is for the sake of the fifth year—“so that the tree increase its produce for you.”35 This seems counterintuitive: Shouldn’t the goal of this process be holiness rather than mundaneness?

The answer is that holiness per se is not the goal of life; the goal is to invest the mundane with holiness, for only thus can we make all aspects of life into God’s home, thereby fulfilling the purpose of creation. When we take the fruit of the fifth and following years, which is not intrinsically holy, and make use of it for holy purposes—as a reason and reminder to praise God for satisfying our needs and desires—we are accomplishing precisely that. This is especially true when we recognize that the bountiful blessings of the fifth year are a direct result of our having heeded God’s instructions regarding the fruit of the preceding four years.

In the beginning of his career, very few people had ever heard of the Ba’al Shem Tov. He wandered anonymously from town to town in search of opportunities to help his brethren, both materially and spiritually. He would often ask the simple people whom he met about their health and finances. He knew that they would invariably answer with praises and thanks to God, and these words of praise were ever so precious in his eyes.

In one town, there lived an elderly scholar who had totally disassociated himself from the pleasures of the flesh. For more than fifty years, he had spent all his weekdays fasting in a secluded room, cloaked in his talit and tefilin, constantly studying the Torah and abstaining from any mundane conversation. Only late at night would some bread and water cross his lips, after which he would immediately return to his studies.

The Ba’al Shem Tov, dressed as a simple villager, visited this old sage and asked him about his health and needs. When the old man ignored his repeated inquiries, the Ba’al Shem Tov loudly declared: “Why do you deprive God of His sustenance?” Noticing the scholar’s shock at hearing such seemingly sacrilegious words, the Ba’al Shem Tov explained: “We Jews are sustained through the beneficence that God grants us. What is God sustained by? To paraphrase the words of King David:36 And you, O Holy One, what are You sustained by? You sit upon(i.e., are sustained by)the praises of Israel.’ God derives satisfaction and sustenance from the thanks and praises offered by the Jewish people in gratitude for their physical well-being.”37

The elderly Torah scholar in this story was indeed serving God. Nevertheless, the Ba’al Shem Tov told him that that is not enough. Although we do make limited use of the body and the human/animal soul in studying the Torah, it is mainly a way of manifesting our Divine soul. Important as this may be, in order to elevate the body and the human/animal soul we have to engage the physical world and reveal God’s presence in it. Thus, by limiting his focus only to categorically holy pursuits, refusing to thank God for His simple, physical kindnesses, the scholar in the story was missing the point. In the words of the sages, “Anyone who declares ‘I have nothing [in life] but the study of the Torah’ does not even have that.”38

The other side of this coin is that in order to properly elevate the fruit of the fifth year and beyond, we must first eat the fourth-year fruit in an atmosphere of consummate holiness. It is specifically the intense and unmitigated experience of union with God divorced from any involvement with the mundane that provides us with the heightened Divine consciousness and spiritual strength to successfully engage the material world and transform it into holiness, rather than allowing it to drag us down into its materiality.

This dynamic may be compared to the sages’ prohibition against eating before morning prayers39 (except when necessary in order to pray with better concentration40). Until we renew our Divine consciousness each morning through meditative prayer, communing with God without any thought of mundane distractions, we are not spiritually fit to elevate physical food.41

Inner Dimensions

[23-25] Its fruit must be blocked from your use for three years: In Kabbalistic terminology, the tree represents Z’eir Anpin, and the earth in which it is planted represents malchut. Thus, when a tree is planted, Z’eir Anpin is drawn into malchut. This happens in stages, with the lowest three aspects of Z’eir Anpin being implanted within malchut during the first three years. These levels (netzach, hod, and yesod) are the orientation within Z’eir Anpin toward practical application, which requires a certain level of self-consciousness. For this reason, the fruit that grows during this period is appropriated by the forces of evil—the three totally impure kelipot—and is therefore forbidden. In the fourth year, the energy is drawn from tiferet, leading the fruit to be a statement of praise and thanks to God. In the fifth year and on, when the fruit is drawn from the highest aspects of Z’eir Anpin, there is no capacity for any misdirection of their energy, and thus they are permitted to be eaten anywhere.

From a somewhat broader perspective, the first three years correspond to the three spiritual worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah. As expressed in their names, these worlds reflect a degree of consciousness in which something exists other than God; something has been created, formed, and made. As such, there is an opening for the forces of impurity to be nurtured. The fourth year corresponds to Atzilut, whose holiness imbues the fruit of that year with holiness. By the fifth year, there is already a revelation of keter, of the pure Divine light that transcends the dichotomy between holiness and mundaneness, allowing them to be experienced simultaneously.42

A Closer Look

27 By removing the hair: “Removing” in this context means cutting the hair on the temples so short that the hair cannot be bent back on itself and touch the skin where it grows,43 i.e., 5 mm or 0.2 inch.44 In many Jewish communities, it is customary to let the temple-hair (or some of the temple-hair) grow into side-locks of various lengths, either as a halachic stringency,45 as a way of fulfilling this commandment elegantly or artistically,46 or as a distinctive sign of Jewish identity.47 Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, however, did not grow side-locks, and this is also Chabad practice.48

This prohibition does not apply to women, since it is linked to the prohibition against cutting the beard.49

You must not destroy the edge of your beard: It is thus technically permitted to shave the portions of the beard between the “edges” with a razor, or remove the entire beard with scissors,50 and for the latter reason some halachic authorities permit removing the beard with powder, scissors, or certain types of electric clippers that operate with a scissor-like action and whose blades do not cut the stubble closely.51

However, the sages of the Talmud considered the beard an integral part of God’s beautification of the male face,52 and in Jewish mysticism the beard represents and expresses the flow of certain aspects of Divine beneficence and mercy into the world.53 For these and other reasons,54 many halachic authorities either frown upon or prohibit removing the beard—or even trimming it—in any manner.55

The exceptions to the prohibitions against removing the hair of the temples and the beard are the initiation rites of Levites56 and the purification rites of the Nazirite57 and someone suffering from tzara’at,58 all of which require shaving the entire head (or body) with a razor, including the temples and the beard.

30 You must revere My Sanctuary: There are two aspects of the reverence we are to show God’s Sanctuary. The first is the emotion of reverence we are to feel towards the edifice that God has chosen as the earthly abode of His presence.59 The second is the practical expression of reverence, which, according to Jewish law, includes not carrying a walking staff, not wearing shoes, not carrying a purse or a money belt, not having dust upon one’s feet, and not spitting while inside the sacred precincts. Whereas the emotion of reverence is required only vis-à-vis the Sanctuary and its Courtyard, the laws regarding the practical demonstration of reverence would apply—once the people would be organized into three concentric camps60—also to the entire Levite camp, or its equivalent when the Temple is standing, the Temple Mount.61

The difference between these two aspects of reverence is rooted in the different ways we arrive at the emotions of fear, awe, and reverence. In general, the difference between love and fear (and its allied emotions, awe and reverence) is that love more actively involves the ego. In order to love someone or something, we must first be aware of ourselves and what we love. Although we do focus on the objects of our love, we focus not on the object per se but on how it fulfills some need or desire of ours. In contrast, fear is usually a spontaneous reaction to the object that inspires it. We are only marginally aware of ourselves when we are struck with fear by something; if anything, our awareness of ourselves evaporates in the face of the impending danger (or overpowering awe).

In particular, however, the awe of God may also be divided into two levels, contrasted as well by the degree to which the ego is involved. When we feel awe of God because of our own recognition of God’s greatness vis-à-vis ourselves, our sense of self is involved. And since our feeling of awe and selflessness is the product of our own contemplation, it is limited by how deeply we can understand and meditate on God’s greatness.

In contrast, the selflessness we evince by submitting to God’s will and observing the dictates of Jewish law is not at all limited by our ability to probe God’s greatness; it is absolute, and therefore infinitely more profound. From this perspective, the practical expression of reverence for the Sanctuary is more crucial—a more fundamental component of our relationship with God—than is the emotion of reverence we are meant to feel.

The absolute nature of the laws of reverence for the Sanctuary is reflected in the fact that they apply even when the Temple is not standing. Thus, even today, we are not allowed to build homes in the style of the Temple or make ornaments or furniture that imitate the design of the furnishings of the Temple, such as a seven-branched Candelabrum.62

We observe these laws even today because their observance is dependent not upon the emotions we feel toward the physical building but upon our devotion to God’s will. As the sages state, ever since the permanent Temple was built in Jerusalem, the Divine presence has never departed from the Temple’s location;63 it is therefore the Divinity resting in the location that we revere, much more than the building itself.64

This explains why the commandment to revere the Sanctuary is mentioned in connection with the observance of the Sabbath. Just as we do not revere Sabbath itself but He who instructed us to observe it, so too, it is not the Temple itself that we revere but He who directed us to revere it.65 By the same token, just as Sabbath observance is eternal, so too is the reverence for the Temple eternal.66

When the Temple is standing and God’s presence is openly revealed in it, it is only natural that we show reverence for it. Our feelings of awe for the holy edifice are so intense that very little self-discipline, if any, is required to compel us to behave respectfully. Thus, when the Temple is standing, our selfless devotion to God’s will in observing the rules regarding its reverence is somewhat obscured.

During exile, in contrast, our observance of these rules—like our observance of all the Torah’s commandments—is much more an expression of our unflinching devotion to God’s will despite the lack of any open Divine revelation. Our fear and awe of God are therefore expressed much more powerfully when we are in exile than they are when the Temple is standing.

Nonetheless, by revering the Sanctuary in accordance with Jewish law, we increase our yearning for its restoration. This, along with our continued devotion to God’s will, will hasten the messianic Redemption and the rebuilding of the Temple.67

32 You must rise before a wise, elderly person:Literally, this phrase reads “Before old age you must rise.” Thus, as stated in the Zohar,68 this verse may be interpreted homiletically: “Before old age—even before you reach an advanced age and are forced to begin contemplating the Day of Judgment, arise—get an early start on repentance, so you can serve God with vigor.”

Alternatively, “old age” may be taken as a reference to the evil inclination. The evil inclination is called “an old and foolish king,”69 since it is manifest from birth, whereas the good inclination becomes fully manifest only later, from the age of bar or bat mitzvah. Within each of us, then, our evil inclination is “older” than our good inclination.

Nonetheless, the evil inclination does not attain its full strength until later in life, after we have indulged it by submitting to our material desires. It is therefore necessary to “arise,” i.e., enhance our orientation toward Divinity by reining in our evil inclination early in life, “starving” it before it assumes unwieldy proportions.70

A Closer Look

[32] A wise and elderly person: Although the contextual understanding of the Torah obligates us to show respect only to a wise elderly person, the legal interpretation of the Torah requires that we also rise before any person who is superior to us in wisdom, even if he is not elderly, and before anyone over 70 years old, even if he is not a sage (as long as he is not known to rebel against the Torah’s commandments).71

35-36 A perversion of justice with regard to measures: Besides the two reasons Rashi offers to explain why the commandment to possess only accurate measures is linked to the Exodus from Egypt (as given in the interpolated translation), the Midrash72 offers another: whoever denies that God commanded us to possess only accurate measures is considered as having denied the Exodus from Egypt.

The reason why specifically this sin is equated with denying the Exodus is related to its unique nature. Elsewhere in the Torah, we are cautioned merely against taking money that is not ours (whether through stealing, robbery, cheating, etc.); here, we are commanded to not even possess false measures, regardless of whether we ever use them.73 Although we could explain this prohibition as a precautionary measure (i.e., if we do not possess such measures, we will not be tempted to use them), it appears that the Torah is also concerned with the detrimental effect that simply possessing such measures can have on us.

As opposed to outright stealing (or other forms of unlawful appropriation), the use of false measures involves the pretense of proper behavior. The person who uses them is indeed measuring his wares, seemingly in order to charge his customer correctly; however, he is at the same time cheating him. This duplicity is the root of all dishonesty, ultimately leading to more overt theft—and worse.

Such is the craft of the evil inclination in general. Aware that attempting to convince us to openly rebel against our Creator will undoubtedly fail, he attempts to trick us through duplicity. “I agree,” he begins, “that our every action must be ‘measured,’ carried out in full compliance with Jewish law. But what would be so terrible if the ‘measures’ were slightly off? Even if you do insist on keeping an honest measure,” he continues, “keep another one as well: Apply God’s laws to your life fully when dealing with spiritual matters. But when interacting with the material world or conducting business, surely there is some room for compromise.”

We can now understand why this commandment is linked with the Exodus from Egypt. According to Maimonides,74 although the Egyptians’ actions against the Jews were pre-ordained collectively, they were still culpable individually because each individual Egyptian could have chosen not to be a party to the oppression. Nonetheless, they chose evil, and were therefore punished (not for what they did, but) because of the evil in their hearts that made them so choose. Even Pharaoh was culpable, although it could be argued that as the nations’ king he could not possibly have avoided wronging the Jews. Since he did not oppress them in order to fulfill God’s prophecy but for his own purposes, he was rightfully punished for his evil intentions.

Similarly, it is the inner evil intent evinced by making or owning false measures (rather than any act of misappropriation) that makes it a sin. Asserting that God does not prohibit the mere possession of inaccurate measures therefore implies a denial of the culpability of someone who merely harbors evil intentions, and as such is a denial of the justice of the punishment the Egyptians received that led to the Exodus from Egypt.

Furthermore, just as the Exodus from Egypt was the prelude and prerequisite to the giving of the entire Torah, so is the evil duplicity implicit in the possession of false measures the prelude and prerequisite to the more actively heinous crimes of theft, robbery, and so forth, as we have noted. Conversely, then, scrupulousness in maintaining accurate measures, as well as in all business dealings, is the prelude and prerequisite to fulfilling the entire Torah. In the words of Hillel,75 “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow—this is the entire Torah, and the rest is commentary. Go and learn it!”76

Chapter 20

7 You must sanctify yourselves and be holy: When a person sanctifies himself in some small way below, he is sanctified in great measure from on high.77 When a person resists the urge to indulge in material pleasure, he produces an increase of holiness and spiritual light, which then descends and rests upon him. This verse, then, can be read as follows: “Sanctify yourself, i.e. act as if you are sanctified even if you are not, and you will be holy—ultimately you will become holy because of the great holiness that will descend upon you from on high.”78