Hillel and Rebbi Akiva both stated that “Love your neighbor” is a great
principle in the Torah. When the convert came to Hillel demanding that he teach
him the whole Torah on one foot, it was not a silly request. What he meant was
that he wished to be taught the foundation of the entire Torah—that principle on
which the Torah stands—like a body standing on one foot.
Hillel told him: “Don’t do unto others what you wouldn’t want
them to do unto you.” In order for there to be a Torah there has to be respect
for human beings. There has to be a way for people to function as a society. The
reason is that the Torah was received by the Jewish people as one unit, and
couldn’t have been received any other way. No one person can fulfill all six
hundred and thirteen mitzvos. It’s impossible. No man will ever bring a
korban yoledes, the woman’s mitzvah after giving birth; no woman will ever
fulfill bris milah. Beyond that, kohanim have mitzvos that others
don’t, such as the Temple service, keeping the laws of purity, and so on. On the
other hand, kohanim and levi’im can’t have pidyon ha ben.
In order to receive all six hundred and thirteen commandments, they had to
receive it together as one nation. The giving of the Torah necessitates the
unity of the nation designated to receive that Torah.
The Torah also serves as a guide for life. If life is
important, Torah is important. Things of no great significance don’t need a
guidebook. Bubble gum isn’t important, so it doesn’t come with an instruction
booklet. Life, which is important, needs a set of instructions.
Chazal said: “A person should say: ‘For me the world was
created.’ And he shouldn’t say, ‘There’s no olam haba, no techias
hameisim.’ ” What’s the connection between those two statements, what one
should and shouldn’t say? A person has to realize that he is important, his life
is important, and not something temporal, that simply ends after 120 years. And
if it is important, then there must be something more to it, something beyond
this world. But if my life is insignificant, an insignificant speck in the
universe, and I’m just an accident, why should I think that there must be any
life beyond this one?
Just before the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, G-d told
Moshe to tell the people that no one should approach the mountain. Anyone trying
to ascend would have to be killed, and it would be as if a multitude had been
killed. Moshe protested that it wasn’t necessary to issue the warning, since he
had already done so. The Gemora says that it was G-d’s intention that you have
to warn people when it’s theoretical, and again when the time comes for
practical application. G-d wanted them to hear it again because He was concerned
for their lives. Even one life is indispensable. The timing of this lesson was
no accident. Before they could appreciate the importance of Torah, they had to
realize their own importance. Once they appreciate the importance of life, they
can appreciate the importance of the Torah as a guide for living. And if I don’t
value the life of another human being, how important can the Torah be?
Another idea: the Rambam says at the end of Hilchos Chanukah
that the whole purpose of Torah is to bring shalom into the world.
Shalom means shleimos, perfection, which is attainable only when
people are working together, and that requires mutual respect. No one individual
is complete by himself, he requires others. We all need other people. Day-to-day
survival depends on it. The food we eat is only possible because the labor of
thousands upon thousands of individuals have been coordinated in the growing,
packaging, distribution and sale of the food to make it available to me. The
same is true of clothing and shelter. Likewise, everybody has a special,
indispensable role to play in the global system of Torah. We can’t have Torah
without the coordination of the labors of the entire Jewish people.
Chazal say that talmidei chachamim bring shalom into the world.
The whole purpose of Torah is shalom. The unification of the Jewish
people at Mount Sinai, therefore, was not just a nice thing; it was a
pre-condition for the giving of the Torah. In that sense, then, v’ahavta
l’reicha kemocha, loving your neighbor, is a great principle because it is a
pre-requisite for Torah. There can be no Torah without it.