Friday, May 06, 2005

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You shall love your neighbor as yourself

Rabbi Yaakov Menken (from Torah.Org, a highly recommended site) said he heard in the name of Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Hertzberg (to whom he is related by marriage):

The Torah says "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (19:18) and Rabbi Akiva (not me, the great Jewish sage) comments, "this is a great principle in the Torah." The verse itself concludes "I am HaShem," connecting love of our neighbor directly to service of G-d.

So Rav Hertzberg zt"l told a Chassidic parable. One of two very close friends was accused of a capital crime by false witnesses, and the judge pronounced a death sentence on the innocent accused. When the friend learned of this, he came into the court and confessed to the crime, declaring that it was he who should be put to death!

But when the first person heard that his friend had confessed, he contradicted him, and admitted that he had in fact been guilty all along. Both of the two remained adamant in their position that it was he, rather than his friend, who should be put to death.

The judge had no idea what to do with these two men, both of whom insisted that they be put to death and the other spared. So he forwarded the case to the seat of government. When the King learned of this bizarre case, he demanded that the two men be brought before him, and he himself heard both of their claims.

He demanded to know which of them had, in fact, committed the crime. They responded that neither of them have actually done it, but neither of them could bear the thought of seeing their innocent friend put to death -- so much so that they were willing to sacrifice their own life in order to save that of their friend.

The King said that he was prepared to spare both of them, but on one condition: that they include him in such a dear and precious friendship.

This, said Rav Hertzberg, is how the Chassidim explain "and you shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am G-d." When HaShem sees Israel united in love and friendship, one towards the other, then He forgives them their sins, and joins with them -- as it says in the Talmud, "G-d, the Torah, and Israel, are One."

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