According to Rabbi Akiva, “Love your fellow as yourself”1 is “a great principal of the Torah,” yet it is a commandment easier said than done. How can we love every person as we love ourselves? People possess the full gamut of negative traits, shortcomings and failings. Often, the closer we become to someone, the more we see his or her personality flaws. How then can we be expected to love every person? Must we ignore one’s negativity?

The most seemingly problematic part of the statement is “as yourself.” Even if, somehow, we learn to love our fellow, can the Torah expect the love to rise to the level of self love?

Chassidic philosophy explains that the words “as yourself” are the key to the ability to love our fellow. When a person loves himself, he is not ignorant of his own personality flaws. On the contrary, no one is as aware of his flaws as he himself is. But somehow, the awareness of his own flaws does not contradict or destroy his self love. That is because a person does not see his own flaws in isolation; he sees his own flaws against the backdrop of self love.

The person who is aware of his own flaws will work very hard to conceal those flaws from others. He fears, often correctly, that the other person’s focus will zero in on the fault alone, and the person will define him by his flaws.

The Talmud relates that a gentile who sought to convert asked the great sage Hillel to teach him all of the Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel told him, “What is hateful to you, don’t do to others.”2 You hate when others define you by your shortcomings; therefore, don’t do the same to others. Never look at the shortcomings of your child, your spouse, your neighbor or your fellow in isolation. See them only against the backdrop of love.3