I was feeling great before she walked into the room. She came in, our eyes met, and my joie de vivre started to deflate. She’d never harmed me; in fact, we had a cordial relationship. But she had something that I didn’t have. Compared to her, I felt diminished.

Competition—wouldn’t it be nice to outgrow it! In kindergarten, it’s understandable; in high school, inevitable; but as an adult, it’s so . . . passé. I wish we could leave it behind with our senior sweatshirts and looseleaf folders. Yet it lingers into adulthood. The people we tend to like are those who validate our lifestyles and tickle our egos. Other people, we’d rather not be around. Not because they’ve done anything wrong, not at all. It’s just that we have very little in common—or, even worse, we feel threatened by their presence.Compared to her, I felt diminished

G‑d says, “Love your fellow as [you love] yourself.”1 That can’t mean everyone, can it? If we appreciate our fellow, we can probably love him. But if we don’t appreciate him, what’s to love? Didn’t G‑d set the benchmark a bit too high with this commandment?

G‑d can expect us to be nice to everyone. That’s an attainable goal. Indeed, many commentaries concede that this commandment is written euphemistically, and a more realistic interpretation of this verse would be, “Act in a loving way toward your fellow.”2 But if that’s what G‑d meant to say, then why not say that to begin with? There are a myriad of other mitzvahs that require us to treat people with respect, regardless of our personal relationship with them. But this mitzvah doesn’t tell us what to do—it tells us how to feel. Can you tell someone to feel love?

The last part makes it even more challenging: “Love your fellow as yourself.” A more moderate love should suffice. But to love others like we love ourselves? To look out for their best interests like we look out for our own? That type of affection could be reserved for a sister or best friend, but not for everyone.

Maybe this mitzvah is speaking to someone more spiritually attuned than your average Jew. For the rest of us, perhaps we should focus on the other 612 mitzvahs first. The problem is that this is apparently a really important one. Here is a case in point: One of the greatest sages of all times, Hillel the Elder, was challenged by a potential convert who said, “Teach me the entire Torah on one foot.” (In other words, “What’s the abridged version of the Torah?”) Hillel responded unequivocally that the mitzvah to love one’s fellow is essentially the entire Torah, and everything else is commentary to that mitzvah. But how is Shabbat a commentary to love? How is eating kosher predicated on love? What if you’re meticulous about the laws of Passover, but there are a lot of Jews you just don’t like?

The Baal Shem Tov cherished the mitzvah of ahavat Yisroel, love for one’s fellow Jews.3 In fact, he taught his students that appreciating other people is an objective indicator of how well one has internalized chassidic teachings. The Baal Shem Tov cultivated a following of spiritually vibrant people. They meditated, prayed, and sang soulful melodies. They viewed materialism as a means to an end, and spirituality as the central focus. And love was their litmus test of spiritual growth. Without authentic appreciation of others, their soulful meditation was all hype.They viewed materialism as a means to an end

The first Chabad rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, expounded upon many of the Baal Shem Tov’s philosophical tenets in his groundbreaking work, the Tanya. In the thirty-second chapter, he discusses Hillel’s reasoning for placing love at the center of our religious paradigm. And it’s not by coincidence that this topic is discussed in Chapter 32. The number 32 corresponds to the Hebrew letters lamed and bet, which together spell the word lev, “heart”—and loving others is at the heart of Chassidism. Without the heart, all of the intellectual theories are just theories. You can stand on your soapbox and preach Kabbalah all day long, but if you still get irritated by other people, then you’re not quite there yet.

But how do we it? How do we appreciate people that we don’t appreciate? Rabbi Schneur Zalman not only advocates the importance of this mitzvah, but guides us through it.

It all begins with self-love, authentic self-love—an appreciation for the breath of G‑d inside us. This doesn’t mean loving any particular attribute or talent. That self-love is dangerously tenuous. Today, we’re stars; tomorrow . . . not so much. A truer self-value comes from the knowledge that G‑d created us and invested a G‑dly soul inside of us. We’re valuable because G‑d gave us a mission.

And that’s really the goal of all of Jewish practice. To empower the soul and to give it precedence. Whenever we do a mitzvah, especially if it’s an inconvenient one, we’ve proven that our priority is the wellbeing of the soul.

And which mitzvah most highlights the centrality of the soul? Loving a fellow Jew—for no other reason aside from the fact that he is a Jew. As individuals, we may have little in common. Maybe she’s not your type, or he’s in another social group. But as Jews, we feel a commonality that transcends our differences. The appreciation that we feel toward another is an objective indicator of how far our spiritual development has taken us.

That’s not to say that we become blind to people’s flaws. We notice them, but they don’t alienate us—just like family members who disagree, but at the end of the day they’re still family. When someone else criticizes our family When our siblings are successful, we celebrate with themmember, we take personal offense. And when our siblings are successful, we celebrate with them rather than become envious of them.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains that our souls are like siblings. We share a soul root, a father—G‑d. We have so much in common with each other. Your success is my success, too, because we’re part of the same family.

It takes a lifetime of concentrated focus to truly master this mitzvah. So, anytime we don’t feel our commonality, or we feel threatened by another’s success, we’re in good company. At its root, competition is an objective indicator that we don’t love ourselves deeply enough. Yes, I value my individuality, but that’s something that I can’t share with you. Not only that, my unique gifts and assets are threatened by yours. When we appreciate others naturally as common members of the Jewish tribe, we’ve proven that we value our soul more than our individuality.

I once asked a friend how she and her siblings got along so well. She shared the following story: “I remember as a teen going shopping with my mother and my sister. My sister was trying on a dress, and we both watched her reflection as she moved before the giant mirror. When she slipped back into her fitting room, I said to my mother, ‘She is so beautiful and thin!’ My mother responded with a smile, ‘Aren’t you pleased for her?’”

Like this Jewish mother, G‑d delights in seeing His children getting along and enjoying each other’s success. The Tanya explains that when we get along, G‑d is so pleased that he overlooks our personal imperfections. Unity creates a powerful magnetism that instinctively attracts G‑d’s blessing.4