Loving Your Neighbor

Real questions, submitted by actual OU Torah followers, with their real answers. NOTE: For questions of practical halacha, please consult your own rabbi for guidance.

Q. When the Torah says, 'Love Your Neighbor like yourself,' 1) Why does the Torah specifically use the word 'neighbor?' e.g. Why not just love all people, etc.? 2) Is anyone included/excluded because of this language? e.g. This person/type of person/group of people is not considered to be a 'neighbor' and then therefore excluded from this commandment. 3) Since different people have different self-esteem/self-confidence, does this mitzva apply differently to different people? Meaning would my mitzvah of this be different than your mitzvah of this commandment?

A. Thanks for your question. First off, the Torah doesn't say "neighbor." That's an English translation and, as such things often are, it's imperfect. It might be a little old-timey sounding, but a better translation might be "Love your fellow as yourself." That certainly casts the net wider than just the guy who lives next door.

As far as who is included or excluded, this mitzvah refers specifically to other Jews, but see what I wrote here

"In the Sifra, where Rabbi Akiva calls this mitzvah a primary idea of the Torah, the scholar Ben Azzai proposes a different verse as greater still: Genesis 5:1, which says, “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” With “loving our neighbor as ourselves,” we may occasionally justify hurting others because of our differences, rationalizing that they fail to meet our definition of a “neighbor.” “This is the book of the generations of Adam” reminds us that all of us – Jew, Christian, Muslim, black, white, yellow, red, brown, you name it – we’re all descended from the same first parents and all of us together are one big family of man."

Finally, while we all have different priorities, I don't think this mitzvah varies from person to person. We say that we should want for others what we want for ourselves, but that might be an overly literal way of seeing things. I might want to run a 5K and my neighbor might want to enter a still-life photography contest. This doesn't mean that I should pray to God for him to give up photography and take up running. Rather, I should be as happy in his blue ribbon as I am when I beat my previous time. We should be as happy in our friends' achievements - whatever they may be - as we are in our own.

Rabbi Jack's latest book, Ask Rabbi Jack, is now available from Kodesh Press and on Amazon.com.