Love Your Fellow Jew
Love your fellow Jew as you love yourself, this is the great general commandment of the Torah. So said Rabbi Akiva, basing it on the verse, "and you shall love your fellow Jew, for I am the Lord, your G-d."
The command to love your fellow Jew is one of the basic mitzvoth of the Torah. So much so, that Rabbi Akiva made this the pivot point upon which all of the Torah is based. Not only this, but in the verse in which we Jews are commanded to love our fellow Jews is followed by the decree that G-d is our Lord!
Perhaps we can understand this with the help of a story.
There were two young boys who became very good friends. From their youth, they admired each other's sterling character qualities and good deeds. So close was their friendship, that they developed explicit trust in each other.
Each knew that the other was an extremely moral individual and could be trusted with the deepest secrets and proper behaviour. Time only deepened their bond.
As they approached manhood, each married and soon became involved in businesses. Although they separated in space, since they moved to different cities, yet they remained united in spirit and trust. They maintained a continual correspondence with each other over the many years and their mutual bond remained intact.
In the city of one of the friends, a despicable crime was committed. The police investigation accused the friend who lived in that city of committing the crime. A swift trial was arranged and the man was found guilty. Although he denied the crime, the judge decided to make him a public spectacle in order to frightened the public from committing such a crime. He was sentenced to be hung in public.
When the friend in the other city heard the tragic news, he was heart broken. It can't be that his friend would commit any crime, especially such a base crime as the one that was committed. He knew his friend was innocent although he had no proof, yet his heart was broken knowing that his friend would be executed.
He traveled to the city of his friend and arrived on the day of the execution. As his friend was being brought out to the hangman's gallows, he could not hold the bitter pain within him that filled his soul with anguish. The agony of seeing his beloved friend bound and led to his unrighteous death was more than he could take.
"Stop," he yelled, "he is innocent. I am the guilty party. Do not kill an innocent man!"
The police quickly grabbed the friend and brought him before the judge. The friend confessed that he perpetrated the crime and that the other fellow was innocent as he had claimed. The judge hearing this ordered the hangman to release the shackles and set free the innocent man and instead hang this man, who had confessed to the crime.
When the friend who was being released saw that it was his good friend who could not bear to live with out him and was willing to give up his life for him, he, unwilling to let his dear innocent friend be executed in his place, also, confessed.
"No, he did not do it. I did it. Execute me and not him!"
An argument broke out between the friends, each one claiming that he alone committed the crime and he alone should be executed.
The judge looked in amazement at the proceedings. Never before had he witnessed such a spectacle of two men, instead of accusing the other of committing a crime, here were each claiming that he, and he alone did it and pleading with the judge to spare the other.
The king of the country heard the tumult and came to investigate. He found out that the two were indeed very close friends who trusted and loved each other with complete self-giving. The friend from afar explained that he knew that the other could never have committed any crime, much less such a terrible one. The pain he felt was more than he could bear, he was willing to let himself be executed to spare his friend. And the friend who could have been spared, although he had originally pleaded innocent, would rather be executed, than be spared through the death of his friend, impressed the king.
The king ordered the two friends freed.
"I do not know if he committed the crime or not." The king declared, "but, if some one has a friend like this, who is willing to die for the other, he could not be such an evil person. Not only that, but I want friends like that. So I am joining their circle of friendship."
That is the meaning of "Love you fellow Jew like yourself, I am the Lord your G-d."
When Jewish people all over the world will unite as one, when Jewish brotherhood will flourish, then G-d will chose to dwell within our camps.
from the June 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine