Rav Kook Torah

Kedoshim: Love Your Neighbor

“Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge against the children of your people. You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Lev. 19:18)

Is this mitzvah of Ahavat Yisrael realistic? Is it possible to truly love another person as much as we love ourselves?

Attaining Ahavat Yisrael

Rav Kook stressed the importance of loving the Jewish people. From his teachings we can also glean practical advice on how to achieve this love.

  • Ahavat Yisrael does not start from the heart, but from the head. In order to truly love the Jewish people and understand their actions — each individual Jew and the nation as a whole — one needs a wisdom that is both insightful and multifaceted. This intellectual inquiry is an important discipline of Torah study (Orot HaKodesh vol. III p. 325).

  • If we call attention to the positive traits of our fellow Jews, we will come to love them with an inner affection. This is not a form of insincere flattery, nor does it mean ‘white-washing’ faults and foibles. But by concentrating on the positive characteristics — and every person has a good side — the negative aspects become insignificant.

  • There is an additional advantage of this method. The Sages cautioned against joining up with wicked people and exposing oneself to their negative influence. But if one is bound to others through their good attributes, then this connection will not damage the purity of one’s soul (Orot HaKodesh vol. III pp. 324, 333).

  • The path of attaining a high level of Ahavat Yisrael is by increasing one’s awareness of the inner connection that binds together all the souls of the Jewish people, throughout all the generations. Rav Kook expressed his own profound sense of connection to every other Jewish soul in the following revealing passage:

    “Listen to me, my people! I speak to you from my soul, from within my innermost soul. I call out to you from the living connection by which I am bound to all of you, and by which all of you are bound to me. I feel this more deeply than any other feeling: that only you — all of you, all of your souls, throughout all of your generations — you alone are the meaning of my life. In you I live. In the aggregation of all of you, my life has that content that is called ‘life.’ Without you, I have nothing. All hopes, all aspirations, all purpose in life, all that I find inside myself — these are only when I am with you. I need to connect with all of your souls. I must love you with a boundless love....

    “Each one of you, each individual soul from the aggregation of all of you, is a great spark, part of the torch of the Light of the universe which enlightens my life. You give meaning to life and work, to Torah and prayer, to song and hope. It is through the conduit of your being that I sense everything and love everything.” (Shemonah Kevatzim 1:163)

    Love for Every Jew

    For Rav Kook, Ahavat Yisrael was not just theoretical. Stories abound of his extraordinary love for other Jews, even those who were intensely antagonistic to his ways and beliefs. Below is one such story, from the period that Rav Kook served as chief rabbi of pre-state Israel.

    A vocal group of ultra-Orthodox Jerusalemites vociferously opposed Rav Kook, due to his positive attitude towards secular Zionists. Often they would publicize posters along the city streets, attacking the Chief Rabbi and discrediting his authority.

    One day, Rav Kook returned from a brit milah ceremony in Jerusalem’s Old City, accompanied by dozens of students. Suddenly a small group of hotheaded extremists attacked the rabbi, showering him with waste water. The chief rabbi was completely drenched by the filthy water. Emotions soared and tempers flared.

    By the time Rav Kook had arrived home, news of the attack had spread throughout the city. Prominent citizens arrived to express their repugnance at the shameful incident. One of the visitors was the legal counsel of British Mandate. He advised Rav Kook to press charges against the hooligans, and promised that they would be promptly deported from the country.

    The legal counsel, however, was astounded by Rav Kook’s response. ‘I have no interest in court cases. Despite what they did to me, I love them. I am ready to kiss them, so great is my love! I burn with love for every Jew.’

    Such was Rav Kook’s attitude, shortly after this deeply humiliating act.

    Rav Kook would say:

    “There is no such thing as Ahavat Chinam — groundless love. Why groundless? He is a Jew, and I am obligated to love and respect him. There is only Sinat Chinam — hate without reason. But Ahavat Chinam? Never!”

    (Adapted from Malachim K'vnei Adam pp. 262, 483-485)

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