This week’s Torah portion introduces the well-known Judaic concept of “Love your fellow, as yourself.” It is interesting to note that in contrast to most of the other fundamental commandments, the instruction to “Love your fellow, as yourself” does not involve any specific actions. Instead, this commandment requires a certain attitude toward interpersonal relations. Even other passive commandments such as “Keep the Shabbat” and “Honor your father and mother” entail a certain framework of actions one should and should not take to fulfill (and avoid transgressing) the commandment. However, loving your fellow centers around attaining a certain mindset. Additionally, Jews are seen as people of action. This is the very reason we place tefillin on our arm before on our heads, to denote the taking of action over thoughts and prayers. As we chanted by Mount Sinai, “We will do, then we will listen.” For a commandment that was dubbed by Hillel the Sage as equivalent to the “entire Torah,” it seems strange that there is a lack of a particular actions that must be taken to fulfill the commandment. Why, then, is it known as the premise of the Torah?
The answer is simple. The value of “Love your fellow, as yourself” serves as the foundation of the Jewish moral compass. It is labeled the most significant commandment because without this attitude, all of the other commandments, all of our actions, are irrelevant. If we can not treat other humans, who are all made in the image of G-d, with the same respect with which we wish to be treated, then how do we expect to serve G-d, creator of all humans? This commandment provides us with the guideline and mindset we must have on a daily basis. Only by loving our fellows as we’d love ourselves can we properly serve G-d.
This idea is reiterated by the famous saying,“Derech Eretz, Kadma l’Torah,” or “Acting properly proceeds the Torah.” And that is why Hillel the Sage famously said regarding this verse, “This is the entire Torah — the rest is commentary.”