Hillel would say: Be of the disciples of Aaron---a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace, one who loves the creatures and draws them close to Torah.

Ethics of the Fathers, 1:11


``Love your fellow as yourself,'' never an easy task for the human heart, proves even more difficult when applied to one's ``inferiors''---to those who are spiritually and morally lesser than oneself. How can one honestly perceive another as his equal when his fellow's character and behavior are so obviously corrupt? More specifically, throughout the ages a most divisive issue has been: How is a Jew to regard a fellow Jew who has strayed from the path of Torah?

In the first chapter of the Ethics of our Fathers, the great sage Hillel directs, ``Love the creatures and draw them close to Torah.'' ``Creatures'' (beri'os) is the lowliest of the several Hebrew terms for ``man''; it connotes the lowest common denominator of the human race---the fact that we are all G‑d's creations. Says Hillel: Love also the creatures, also those whose only redeeming quality is that they are G‑d's creations, and lovingly draw them to the ethos and ideals of Torah.

But Hillel's policy seems to raise more questions than it answers. What does it mean to ``love G‑d's creatures and draw them close to Torah''? Is this the unconditional love of tolerance and acceptance, or a love with an ulterior motive, albeit a most selfless and honorable motive? Is this ``Love your fellow as yourself'' or ``love your fellow, so that you can turn him into yourself''?

A Chassid's Approach

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chassidism, applies Hillel's saying in the following manner:

Also those who are far from G‑d's Torah and His service... one must draw them close with strong cords of love - perhaps one might succeed in bringing them to Torah and the service of G‑d. And even if one fails, one has still merited the rewards of the fulfillment of the precept ``Love your fellow.''

Yet also Rabbi Schneur Zalman's words require clarification---he seems to adopt both of these apparently conflicting definitions of ``love.'' In his closing words, he clearly establishes that the precept of loving one's fellow exists independently and regardless of the positive influence it may bring: even if one's efforts accomplish nothing, one has still fulfilled the Torah's injunction to ``Love your fellow.'' On the other hand, Rabbi Schneur Zalman writes that ``one must draw them close with strong cords of love'' because of the chance that ``perhaps one might succeed in bringing them to Torah and the service of G‑d''!

Who Is A Jew?

This apparent dichotomy in the nature of relations between Jew and Jew also appears in the words of our sages which describe the very definition of Jewishness and a Jew's relationship with G‑d.

The Talmud states: ``A Jew, although he has transgressed, is a Jew.'' He may violate, G‑d forbid, the entire Torah, yet his intrinsic bond with the Almighty is not affected. In the words of the Midrash, ``Torah preceded the creation of the world... but the thought of Israel preceded all in the mind of G‑d.''

At the same time, many verses and sayings in Torah imply that a Jew relates to G‑d through—and only through—the Torah. In the words of the Zohar: ``There are three connections that are bound to each other: G‑d, the Torah, and Israel... Israel binds itself with Torah, and Torah with G‑d.''

Both are true. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, no matter what. He enjoys an unequivocal relationship with the Almighty regardless of the extent to which he actualizes it in his daily behavior. But the realization of this relationship, the manner in which also his physical being and daily life can be brought to reflect and actualize his quintessential self, is the Torah way of life.

Furthermore, because a Torah life is the ultimate expression of what a Jew is, it cannot, and will not, remain suppressed indefinitely. Sooner or later, his true self will inevitably come to light.

So love him because of what he is, and love him because your love and concern may prove to be the impetus that will bring him to Torah---the two are one and the same.