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The Challenge of “V’ahavta; And You Shall Love.”

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love a stranger
Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch [1], Dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary [2], delves into the relationship between two verses in Parshat Kedoshim:
​Which is easier? Loving people close to us or loving strangers?  What can we learn about ourselves, others and love from these verses?
Full transcription below:

Too many times I hear people saying, I don’t like the Book of Leviticus. I have nothing to say. It’s a very hard book to give sermons on. I find this message really challenging because to me the Book of Leviticus is actually one of the most interesting books and particularly this week, Parashat Kedoshim.

Parashat Kedoshim sits right in the middle of the Book of Leviticus is kind of the essence of what the Book of Leviticus is about “Kedoshim tiyu ki Kadosh ani adonai Elohechem” You should be holy because I’m holy.

The question or the message here is not you are holy. It’s not that you have intrinsic value from the beginning. It’s actually a very demanding message. It tells us you need to be holy.

It’s not clear what you need to do in order to be holy. The commentators gave two different basic answers. One: that’s the commandment to be holy actually relates to what we just finished reading in the Parashat Acharei Mot. It dealt with a lot of issues that have to do with the relationship between men and women and about the limits of the relationship and how to conduct this relationship in a right way.

And others see the beginning of the reading as an intro to the verses we’re about to read in Parashat Kedoshim, we have one of the most quoted verses, “Veahavta Lere’acha Kamocha Ani Hashem.” You should love your brother like yourself. I am God.

20 verses later it says another commandment ” Veahavta Lo Kamocha Ani Hashem” which relates to the foreigner, to the ger (convert), to the stranger.

What is the relationship between these two verses? I think they both kind of tell the same message, but they tell us that it’s very different to love a person that is a relative, that you care about and to love a stranger. These are two very different demands.

Sometimes it’s actually easier to love a stranger. We don’t have a real relationship to him, we can help him for a moment or two, we can be nice to him when we go on the bus. Or we enter the supermarket and we have a gardener or a cashier – we can be nice to them. It’s not too demanding. The relationship that we have with a relative is far more intensive. It is in a way much more demanding because it’s not a relationship we can dictate how it should be done.

On the other hand, it’s much easier to care about some someone we know than to care about someone we have no relationship to. It seems to me that the combination of these two commandments is the actual commandment of how to love people. You need to love both the people you know and the people you don’t know. You need to care about relatives as well as about strangers.

In order to be holy, it’s not just about yourself or about your surroundings, it’s about everyone on one hand. It’s also about making sure that when you care about your surroundings, your relatives and the people that are really part of your daily life, you do it in the right way.