With regard to the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael,we find two different statements from our Sages:1

a) “Rabbi Akiva states: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ This is a great general principle in the Torah;”2

b) the statement from Hillel ([who lived] several generations earlier): “What is hateful to you do not do to your friend. This is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary.”3

The difference between the wording of these two statements is obvious. “This is a great general principle in the Torah” means that ahavas Yisrael is one of the Torah’s general principles. It is even a “great” general principle, but it is still only one general principle.4 (It is not the generalprinciple of the Torah.) Hillel, by contrast, sees [ahavas Yisrael] as “the entire Torah.”5 The remainder is merely commentary.

For this reason, we can understand why Rashi, in his commentary to [this verse in] the Torah, quotes Rabbi Akiva’s statement (but not Hillel’s). For according to a simple perspective,6 ahavas Yisrael is not the entire Torah.7 It is merely the general principle that [motivates] the mitzvos between man and man.8

{For this reason, we see that Rashi,in his commentary to the Talmud,9 (which also reflects the simple meaning of the text, albeit of the Talmud,)10 [first] explains the statement that not doing what is hateful to a friend is “the entire Torah” as referring not to ahavas Yisrael, but [to our relationship with G‑d]. “[The term] ‘your friend’ refers to the Holy One, blessed be He.... Do not violate His words.”11 (This is indeed “the entire Torah.”)

According to his second explanation(and the fact that it is stated second is significant), Rashi interprets “your friend” as referring to a friend on this material plane, but he explains that according to this interpretation, [ahavas Yisrael does not encompass] the entire Torah,12 but rather “[the prohibitions against] robbery, theft, adultery; and the majority of the mitzvos.}13

Explanation is necessary: [Both Rabbi Akiva’s and Hillel’s statements] are “the words of the living G‑d.”14 We must therefore say that both statements and concepts are true and can be explained according to the inner dimension of the Torah. Nevertheless, a question arises: Since Hillel[considers] ahavas Yisrael as “the entire Torah,” why does R. Akiva consider it (only): “a great general principle in the Torah”? (After all, 200 includes 100.)15 Moreover, as mentioned previously, Hillel’s statement was authored many generations [before R. Akiva’s,] as stated above.


The above can be understood based on the [explanation of another] statement by Hillel:16 “Be of the disciples of Aharon, loving peace... loving the created beings and drawing them close to the Torah.” What is the connection between “Loving peace... loving the created beings” and “drawing them close to the Torah”? Ahavas Yisrael motivates a Jew to seek out another person’s welfare (not only with regard to spiritual matters, but) with regard to all things, the material as well as the spiritual.17

As is well known,18 with that expression, the mishnah is clarifying that one should not compromise the Torah for the sake of ahavas Yisrael. “Loving the created beings” should be expressed in bringing them close to the Torah and not, Heaven forbid, [bringing the Torah close to them, i.e., one should not] adapt the Torah to the disposition of people at large and make compromises within it.

According to this interpretation, “drawing them close to the Torah” is a (secondary) point, clarifying how one should “love the created beings.” The simple meaning of the verse, [however, leads to a different interpretation]: “Drawing them close to the Torah” is an extension and a consequence of “loving the created beings.” “Loving the created beings” leads to — and is expressed by — “bringing them close to the Torah.”

This concept is also reflected in ch. 32 of Tanya where the Alter Rebbe quotes [Hillel’s statement] and explains: “This implies that even those who are distant from the Torah of G‑d and His service... must be drawn close with thick cords of love. For perhaps it will be possible to draw them close to the Torah and Divine service.” The [ultimate]intent of “draw[ing] them close with thick cords of love” should be to “draw them close to the Torah and Divine service.” ([The Alter Rebbe, nevertheless, includes a proviso.] Even if one is not successful [in achieving that goal], “he does not forfeit the reward for the mitzvah of loving one’s fellow Jew.”)19

[Thus it seems that a Jew’s love for his fellow man has an ulterior motive; it must lead to the recipient’s spiritual advancement.] Now (previously in that chapter) the Alter Rebbe explains20 that ahavas Yisrael stems from the fact that he is a Jew and he possesses a soul. (And “all souls are complementary and we share one Father. Therefore all Jews are actually called brothers.”)21 For this reason, one must love “every Jewish soul, great or small.”21 (As the Maggid [of Mezritch] says:22 “One must love an absolutely wicked man in the same way as one loves an absolutely righteous man.”)

Since the love for the other person is (not dependent on the person’s level of Divine service, but is rather) an essential love that stems from the soul, why is this love associated with “drawing them close to the Torah”?


To explain the above: As is well known, our Sages state:23 “[G‑d’s] conception of the Jewish people precedes all matters,” even the Torah. For the Jews have precedence over — i.e., are higher — than the Torah. On the other hand, the Zohar states:24 “The Jews connect themselves to the Torah and the Torah connects to the Holy One, blessed be He.” That seems to imply that the Torah is higher than the Jewish people.25

Among the explanations given for [this paradox]26 is that the statement that the Jews transcend the Torah applies as they exist in their source. As the souls descend and [exist on] the physical plane, by contrast, the Torah transcends the Jewish people and a soul must connect to G‑d through the Torah.

Thus there are two [seemingly] opposite [dimensions] of a Jew’s makeup: Because of the dimension of the Jewish soul that transcends the Torah, “a Jew, even if he sins, remains a Jew.”27 No matter how many transgressions he will perform (G‑d forbid), he does not forfeit his Jewishness. For the bond between (the essence of) the soul of a Jew and G‑d is not dependent on his efforts in the Torah and its mitzvos.28

[The result of that connection] is, however, that every Jew will ultimately turn [to G‑d] in teshuvah;29 he will return to the Torah and its mitzvos. [The rationale is that] since the connection of a Jew (on the physical plane) to G‑d is through the Torah, it is impossible for the essential quality possessed by a Jew to remain an isolated entity (without expression in the Torah and its mitzvos). Instead, it must lead him to the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos (and through this,30 the essential quality of his soul that transcends the Torah will also be revealed.)31


These [concepts] lead to the two perspectives that apply to the endeavor of “lov[ing] your neighbor as yourself.” The essence of that love stems from the [utter] unity that exists in the source of the Jewish souls,32 as the Jews exist above the Torah, transcending the Torah’s limitations. Accordingly, this love is expressed equally to all Jews, even to those who are “distant from G‑d’s Torah and His service.”33 For on this level, a distinction cannot be made between a righteous man and a Jew who is distant from the Torah.34 Moreover, this love is not limited to the spiritual dimensions of the other Jew, but instead, encompasses all of his affairs, even his physical concerns,14 for these are the physical concerns of a Jew.

Nevertheless, since a Jew’s existence is bound up with the Torah, as stated above, ahavas Yisrael (even the love which stems from the essence of the soul which is above the Torah) becomes a mitzvah of the Torah. We must love a Jew because the Torah commands us to. As a consequence, [this love is channeled through] the limits and specifi­cations that the Torah establishes. (For example, no compromises in the Torah may be made because of ahavas Yisrael.) And indeed, there are some Jews whom the Torah commands us to relate to in a manner of: “With the utmost hatred, I hate them.”35


This reflects the concept that Hillel emphasizes (which is also under­scored by the Alter Rebbe’s statements in Tanya)that “lov[ing] the created beings” (those distant from G‑d and His service) must lead to draw[ing] them close to the Torah. The love [that one has for his fellow Jew] stems from [the recognition of] their essential quality, the fact that they are Jews.

{[It is true that] we must love a Jew (and help him in all his concerns) even when we are not successful in drawing him close to the Torah.} [Nevertheless, we must operate according to the same rationale that we employ] with regard to our own Divine service. The essential positive quality that we are Jewish (i.e., the bond with G‑d that transcends the Torah) cannot remain separate from the Torah, but instead, must motivate us to the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos (as stated in sec. III).

Similar concepts apply with regard to the love for those who are “distant from the Torah of G‑d and His service.” The fact that one feels their essential quality, [i.e.,] the fact that they are Jews, motivates him not to remain complacent because of this alone. Instead, it propels him toward efforts to transform them into Torah Jews.

Since the essential quality of a Jew comes into expression through the Torah, when a person remains distant from the Torah, it is impossible for him to have an authentic appreciation of the true peace and oneness that exists between him and all other Jews36 (that they are “actually brothers because of the source of their souls”)32 “Drawing them close to the Torah” — connecting them with the Torah and in this way, with G‑d — enables the perception (in a revealed manner)37 of the essential quality possessed by the Jews that transcends the Torah.


On this basis, we can understand the explanation of the two expres­sions used by our Sages with regard to ahavas Yisrael. Rabbi Akiva is speaking about ahavas Yisrael as we must — and as we actually — prac­tice, [loving] a fellow Jew [by showing concern] for him as he exists [on this material plane], a soul enclothed within a body, according to the limitations of the Torah. Accordingly, it is not appropriate to say that it is “the entire Torah,” because that would necessitate compro­mising the standards of the Torah for the sake of ahavas Yisrael (as the threat to Jewish life supersedes the entire Torah38 ). Instead, [ahavas Yisrael] is merely “a general principle in the Torah,” [i.e., one like others,] and must be expressed through the guidelines of the Torah.39

Hillel, by contrast, also speaks about ahavas Yisrael, as it is expressed on the material plane (to a soul as it exists in a body), but [he speaks about it] as it relates to the source of the Jewish souls, the level at which “the Jews precede the Torah.” At this level, the entire Torah exists for the sake of the Jewish people, for the purpose of expressing and revealing their [true] qualities. Since the [true] quality of the Jewish people (that they are “actually brothers because of the source of their souls”) is expressed in a revealed manner through ahavas Yisrael, it is “the entire Torah and the rest is commentary.”40

(Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Parshas Kedoshim, 5727)