‘Love fellow Jew as yourself’ — Do we observe this?

By Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D.

Dr. Michael Mantell

Dr. Michael Mantell

SAN DIEGO — What lesson have we not learned from one of the most basic principles in Judaism, “Love your fellow Jew as yourself”?  It’s preached on pulpit after pulpit, regardless of the sex of the rabbi, the color of the rabbi’s talit, whether the rabbi wears a kippah or not, or the level of kashrut in the weekly Kiddush.  Yet, we just don’t get it.

February is all about Valentine’s Day. Ok, my birthday too the day before. But love permeates the month wherever we go.

For too many, the most fundamental principle in the Torah has been perverted to mean, “Love your fellow Jew as yourself, ONLY IF your fellow Jew is as yourself.”  Otherwise, embarrass, humiliate, severely judge, criticize in public, gossip about, and generally debase your fellow Jew.  If your fellow Jew doesn’t agree with your brand or definition of Judaism, all bets are off.  Have at him or her.

Tragic, isn’t it?  But, oh so true.  Look around in synagogue after synagogue in every city in America and you’ll see how true this is.  We just don’t get it.  We are one, yet we are our own worst enemies.

The Midrash says that as we stood at Mt. Sinai at the time of the giving of the Torah, we were as one person with one heart, with a with non-ending commitment to each other, in perfect unity.  To the deepest of levels, the heart further symbolizes the essence of marriage.

Pirkei Avot, “Sayings of Our Fathers,” tells us that all good things in life are contained in a “good heart” and all bad things in life are contained in a “bad heart.” Having a “good heart” is the way of life that a person should attach her/himself to and having a “bad heart” is the way of life from which a person should distance her/himself, according to Pirkei Avot.

One may think her/himself holy if s/he goes into isolation and practices extreme stringencies and extra religious customs. This is false. For a person to be holy, s/he must be able to steadily act in a proper manner in all interactions with others, regardless of differences of opinion.

One’s behavior towards other people can have enormous good or bad impact on them, whether by active deed or by passive neglect. The closer a person is to you, the more powerful the impact on that person tends to be.

We are in a long and brutal exile because we had causeless and petty hate and strife between us in the time of the destruction of the second Holy Temple and we only gave, in our conduct with each other, what the law required but not more than the law required.  Today, we no longer even give that.

We are still paying the price and we are still guilty of the same. Every generation, in which the Holy Temple is not built, it is as if it were destroyed in that generation.

Is the answer to this situation, Valentine’s Day? A day of sending cards and messages of love and friendship? Of giving chocolates? Of a nice dinner with flowers?

That’s not our answer. I believe our answer is Derech Eretz. The paragon of Jewish behavior, being polite, respectful, thoughtful, civilized, unified and loving toward each other. Treating others as they want to be treated. Wait. Not as we want to be treated? No. As they want to be treated. What if the way you want to be treated is not the way I want to be treated?

Having sterling midot (character traits) and the ability to behave like a mentsh (fine human being) are fundamental to living as a good Jew, living the Torah. The way one behaves is an external manifestation of one’s midot. Therefore, a behavioral corollary to good character is “Derech Eretz.”

In Hebrew, , Ahava, is the word we use for love. It’s made up of three letters that represent “I give,” and “love.” In Judaism, love is about giving love. It’s the giving that builds the connection between people. The more giving, the better the connection.

What are you giving, with Derech Eretz, to others? Can you do better? When will you begin?


Dr Michael Mantell, based in San Diego, provides coaching to business leaders, athletes, individuals and families to reach breakthrough levels of success and significance in their professional and personal lives. Mantell may be contacted via [email protected]  Comments intended for publication in the space below must be accompanied by the letter writer’s first and last name and by his/ her city and state of residence (city and country for those outside the U.S.)


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