The torah commands us to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Vayikra 19). What is so important about loving other people?

Why isn't it sufficient to command us to avoid damaging others and being respectful towards them. Why the need to go to the extent of "loving" them as oneself?

  • "Foundation" answer for now. Man is created in the image of G-d. There are numerous places in the Torah that mention a requirement to love G-d. Thus, by loving man, you love G-d. A more thorough answer involves the Judaic concept of what "love" means which involves the action of actively giving to others. Being passive by being respectful is not the definition of "love" in the Jewish sense. I'll try to find something authoritative on all this.
    – DanF
    Aug 30, 2016 at 21:02
  • @ray If your closing question is based on that assertion about the whole point of the Torah, then I suggest editing that assertion explicitly into the question. If you can back that assertion up, I recommend editing your support in, as well.
    – Isaac Moses
    Aug 30, 2016 at 21:03
  • Also note "as yourself" means that one is also commanded to love himself as well. This is the subject of volumes of explanations. Aug 30, 2016 at 21:20
  • @IsaacMoses added a source. there are probably more along these lines
    – ray
    Aug 30, 2016 at 21:20
  • 1
    @ray Are you assuming that the omly reason for interpersonal mitsvot is for self purification. That is, the only reason that there is a mitsvah prohibiting me form murdering you is so that I can become pure? Is so, consider editing in that you are only asking according to this (shocking) view.
    – mevaqesh
    Aug 30, 2016 at 23:11

2 Answers 2


Rabbi Aqiva and Ben Azzai have a dispute as to what is the overriding principle behind the Torah. According to R' Aqiva, it is "love your peer as yourself", and according to Ben Azzai, it is "these are the generations from Adam" -- ie the common brotherhood of all people. (Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4)

So your question may be very much like "But aside from that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you like the play?"

Why love other people? Because the definition of a human being fulfilling their purpose is that they love other people. The answers to "why avoid damaging others?", "why be respectful?", or "why pursue self refinement / sanctity?" have to be framed in terms of how they help us love other people.

More recently, in the early 19th cent, R' Chaim Volozhiner wrote the notebooks for his son R' Yitzchaq to compile into what became "Nefesh haChaim". A Qabbalistic work about how people can impact the metaphysics of the universe(s) and thus change the events of history (among other things), and how action, prayer and Torah study can repair the world. Usually read as most centrally focusing on the importance of Torah study. But, R' Yitzchaq Volozhiner writes in his introduction to the work:

He would routinely rebuke me because he was that I do not share in the pain of others. This is what he would constantly tell me: that the entire person was not created for himself, but to be of assistance to others, whatever he finds to be in his ability to do.

Skipping ahead another century, we get to the introduction to Shaarei Yosher, written by R' Shimon Shkop. (The translations in this answer come from a more recent manuscript than the translations in the PDF.) The introduction opens:

יתברך הבורא ויתעלה היוצר שבראנו בצלמו ובדמות תבניתו, וחיי עולם נטע בתוכנו שיהיה אדיר חפצנו, להיטיב עם זולתנו, ליחיד ולרבים בהוה ובעתיד בדמות הבורא כביכול

Blessed shall be the Creator, and exalted shall be the Maker, Who created us in His “Image” and in the likeness of His “Structure”, and planted eternal life within us, so that our greatest desire should be to benefit others, to individuals and to the masses, now and in the future in imitation of the Creator (as it were).

He explains how the very definition of qedushah (holiness) is one's commitment to that goal: "That is, that we, the select of what He made – should constantly hold as our purpose to sanctify our physical and spiritual abilities, for the good of the many, according to our abilities. In my opinion, this whole concept is included in Hashem’s mitzvah 'Be holy, [for I am Holy].'" Be holy, ie be committed, in imitation of G-d's commitment.

But people were created with a healthy self-interest, without which we wouldn't be motivated to value our own actions and what we make. Without self-interest, we would lack the motive to contribute to the good of others.

So how does Rav Shimon suggest this dialectic can be resolved? By realizing that giving is not based on abnegating the self, but by extending it to include others:

The entire “I” of a coarse and lowly person is restricted only to his substance and body. Above him is someone who feels that his “I” is a synthesis of body and soul. And above him is someone who can include in his “I” all of his household and family. Someone who walks according to the way of the Torah, his “I” includes the whole Jewish people, since in truth every Jewish person is only like a limb of the body of the nation of Israel. In this [progression] there are more levels for a person who is whole, who can connect his soul to feel that all of the worlds are his “I”, and he himself is only one small limb in all of creation. Then, his self-love helps him love all of the Jewish people and [even] all of creation.

So, we are good to others by removing that otherness. We are all parts of a single whole. A unity that is the "shadow" of G-d's, a love and lovingkidness that emulates His.

If the Ramchal tells us we are here in this world to perfect ourselves, Hillel, R' Aqiva, Ben Azzai et al tell us that what function a person has that we are to be perfect at -- being good to others.

Being connected to others is imitating the Divine, it is holiness, it is doing what we're made for. It's the ultimate "because" behind every why.

  • who is that last quote from? "The entire “I” of a coarse.." thanks
    – ray
    Sep 1, 2016 at 5:14
  • 1
    @ray: It's from further down in R' Shimon's introduction. I changed the text to disambiguate. It now reads: "So how does Rav Shimon suggest this dialectic can be resolved? By realizing that giving is not based on abnegating the self, but by extending it to include others:" Sep 1, 2016 at 16:40
  • This introduction of Shaare Yosher is really very important. He is based on Ramban and on Ramchal in klach pitche chochma. For me, the deepness of the topic is better understood in Pri Haarets. I think that his language is nearer to us in our times. with your permission +1
    – kouty
    Sep 2, 2016 at 6:47
  • Based on the Ramchal? Rav Shimon doesn't cite the Ramchal. I think he is consistent with the Ramchal, but then, he is also consistent with R' Saadia Gaon. The plane on which he takes the topic is universal, being equally stated by Qabbalist and Rationalist alike. Sep 2, 2016 at 9:33
  • yes he mentioned the קל"ח
    – kouty
    Sep 5, 2016 at 5:37

I will add a couple of elements of answer, despite the excellent answer of @Micha Berger.


The questioner asked if not damaging other is not sufficient. On the other hand, if I love someone, naturally i will be accurate to avoid it. To feel effort to limit damages is a sign of egoism (narcisism). I.e. a lake of perception that others are existents, not less than me.

We have a dialectical attitude, exercising restrain, and to unfold (expansion). We use a similar dialectical reasoning concerning the simultaneous existence of the creator and the world. The Deity imply a total extension, a space for the world.

Regarding the creation of the world, we conceptualize a totally extended One, and further a process of restrain (withdrawal) to make space for creation.

From the human being subjective point of view. The existence of oneself is the first perception. Perception of other come further and need a restrain in a first step, to lead to a creation of a space, (in the inner conceptual world) for other. After this, the other can appear, and automatically he is loved when his existence (his good side) is perceived. From this we can also learn that many efforts are needed to reach true Emuna.

The above is an introduction to understand the words of the Peri Haarets in Parashat Toldot.

  1. A parallel between ANOCHI versus LO YHIE LECHA -- and Veahavta Lereacha and May de Sane lach Lechavrach Al Taaved. The first is top-down and the second bottom-up.
  2. A parallel between Esav an already made man (Essav from Assui) whose bodily reallity is enhanced, he is born with hairs -- And Yaakov who is striving to reach the world.
  3. The Chukim--Mitsvot, concerning an unknown (unexistand in conceptual world of a standard man) or known topic.
  4. The prohibition to damage, which is at starting a formal law, and the love which is a natural law.
  5. He explain that the parallel is the same between the mitsvot today and Leatid lavo. Leatid Lavo, they would be natural, because obvious. Chachamim called this Mitsvot would be cancelled leatid lavo.

See the text now.

Summary: loving your (our) neighbor is a consequence of perception of his existence (his value).

Some extracts

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .