Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ramban - Love neighbor as yourself

I am having difficulty understanding the Ramban's commentary to Vayirka (19:18). He starts out saying that the commandment cannot be understood literally because the heart can not love another as oneself. Then he concludes by saying that this commandment is to remove the jealousy from your heart so that there is no limitation on the love you have for another person. This seems to be a direct contradiction.

Vayikra (19:18): [R' Chavel's translation]. AND THOU SHALT LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF. This is an expression by way of overstatement, for a human heart is not able to accept a command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Moreover, Rabbi Akiba has already come and taught, 86 “Your life takes precedence over the life of your fellow-being.” Rather, the commandment of the Torah means that one is to love one’s fellow being in all matters, as one loves all good for oneself. 87 It is possible that since it does not say “and thou shalt love ‘eth rei’acha’ 88 as thyself,” but instead it likened them in the word ‘l’rei’acha ‘ [which literally means “to” thy neighbor], and similarly it states with reference to a proselyte, and thou shalt love ‘10’ (him) [but literally: “to” him] as thyself; 89 that the meaning thereof is to equate the love of both [himself and his neighbor, or himself and the proselyte] in his mind. For sometimes a person will love his neighhbor in certain matters, such as doing good to him in material wealth but not with wisdom and similar matters. But if he loves him completely, he will want his beloved friend to gain riches, properties, honor, knowledge and wisdom. However [because of human nature] he will still not want him to be his equal, for there will always be a desire in his heart that he should have more of these good thIngs than his neIghbor. Therefore Scripture commanded that this degrading jealousy should not exist in his heart, but instead a person should love to do abundance of good for his fellow-being as he does for himself, and he should place no limitations upon his love for him. It is for this reason that it is said of Jonathan’s [love for David] “for he loved him as he loved his own soul” 90 because Jonathan had removed [altogether] the attribute of jealousy from his heart, and he said [to David], and thou shalt be king over Israel 91 etc.

רמב"ן (ויקרא יט:יז) וטעם ואהבת לרעך כמוך - הפלגה, כי לא יקבל לב האדם שיאהוב את חבירו כאהבתו את נפשו, ועוד שכבר בא רבי עקיבא ולמד חייך קודמין לחיי חבירך (ב"מ סב א): אלא מצות התורה שיאהב חבירו בכל ענין כאשר יאהב את נפשו בכל הטוב. ויתכן בעבור שלא אמר "ואהבת את רעך כמוך", והשוה אותם במלת "לרעך", וכן ואהבת לו כמוך (פסוק לד) דגר, שיהיה פירושו להשוות אהבת שניהם בדעתו, כי פעמים שיאהב אדם את רעהו בדברים ידועים להטיבו בעושר ולא בחכמה וכיוצא בזה, ואם יהיה אוהבו בכל יחפוץ שיזכה רעהו האהוב לו בעושר ובנכסים וכבוד ובדעת ובחכמה, ולא שישוה אליו אבל יהיה חפץ בלבו לעולם שיהיה הוא יותר ממנו בכל טובה, ויצוה הכתוב שלא תהיה פחיתות הקנאה הזאת בלבו, אבל יאהב ברבות הטובה לחבירו כאשר אדם עושה לנפשו ולא יתן שיעורין באהבה. ועל כן אמר ביהונתן (ש"א כ יז) כי אהבת נפשו אהבו, בעבור שהסיר מדת הקנאה מלבו ואמר (שם כג יז) ואתה תמלוך על ישראל וגו':


  1. Perhaps this might elucidate.

    I am quoting directly from Me'am Lo'ez Vayikra 19:18
    Rabbi Yitzcack Magrisso Constantinople 1753.
    Volume Translated by Aryeh Kaplan. (Sources given within the sefer)denoted by ().


    You shall love your Friend as yourself" also relates to G-d. If you love G-d then you will not violate His commandments just as you would not want your friend to violate your wishes. (Rashi Chosen Mishpat 426)

    "Children of your people" denotes the Israelites. If one of them harms you, you may not hate him, you must love him. But who is "your friend" in this verse, It is I, G-d. I am your True Friend.

    (Binah Lelttim, Drush 68 p.108)

    All Israel are intermingled one with the other. This means that the entire Jewish people is considered as if all of them have done it (ie. the commandment).

    This is only true where there is unity, love and brotherhood among Israelites. Only then are they considered one body.

    Therefore, keeping the commandment "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" doing for others as one would have them do to him and refraining from doing evil to others is considered to be keeping the entire Torah. If one keeps this commandment he is bond to all Israel and has a share in the Torah observances that each of them does.

    Rabbi Shmuel Primo (Imrey Shefer) quoting Kabbalists BeHaAlothekha.

  2. Absolutely no contradiction! The Ramban starts by saying that it is impossible to emotionally love one's neighbor like oneself, nor does one have to give precedence to his life. He continues to say that the mitzvah is referring to wanting him to have all good like oneself. And this is achieved by removing jealousy from one's heart.

    This is not an all encompassing emotional love such a mother has for a child, but a specific wish for Jews to enjoy every blessing.

    1. very interesting stira raised by the chasam sofer (toras moshe, kedoshim) between R' Akiva who says v'ahavta lereacha kamocha ze klal gadol batorah... and R' Akiva who mentions that chayecha kodmin in the case of kiton shel mayim in bava metsia 62a...

      he answers that when it comes to physical things, then chayecha kodmin, and when it comes to spiritual issues then we are all one neshama and therefore ve'ahavta le're'acha kamocha...

      Of course R' Moshe Feinstein takes him to task... and disagrees... that of course really chayecha kodmin, and like the ramban, all ve'ahavta le'reacha is "haflaga" exaggeration.

      of course it would be nice but impossible to use that for the ramban himself...

      be gezunt

  3. I think you are confusing two different things here. The first part is the reality that one can't love another as himself. Were I giving a vaad I would explain that real love for another cannot even exist without first truly loving oneself. Only by viewing the other as an extension of oneself does the love develop.

    Anyway, the first part is a zero sum game - chayecha kodmin. There is only enough for one of us, of course I can't view another, who I don't perceive as part of me (as opposed to a child) with the love I have for myself. This is not related to jealousy. This is the simple reality of existence.

    The second is when the other's benefit is not costing me. I have what I need but am I willing for the other to have more. The answer should be yes. Not because I love him at my own expense but because I wish for his benefit just as I wish for mine, untroubled by jealousy, with my own needs unthreatened. If Reuven is threatened by Shimon's well being just because Shimon has more -- then Reuven is a selfish,jealous person.

  4. tzvei dinim said...

    I think you are confusing two different things here. The first part is the reality that one can't love another as himself. Were I giving a vaad I would explain that real love for another cannot even exist without first truly loving oneself. Only by viewing the other as an extension of oneself does the love develop.

    I think that Avraham agrees with tzvei dinim.
    interesting understanding - I simply don't see that the Ramban's words support this. He doesn't say in the second part that one needs to remove jealousy from one's heart only when it is not costing me anything. Though it is true that if it is not costing me anything that chayecha kodmin does not apply.

    Which raises another question. Why did he give two reasons in the beginning? why not simply say that the mitzva does not apply in situations where it will cost you time , effort or money while the second part says the mitzva only applies in those cases where chayecha kodmin doesn't apply. This is actually the view of Tosfos (Sanhedrin 45a).

  5. 2 Dinim: You give ve'adim? You attend ve'adim? There are other people out here aspiring to be mussarnikim?

    I would basically agree with 2 Dinim, but point to R' Shimon Shkop's take on the subject for a more elaborated version of the answer. Ve'ahavta lerei'akha kamokha means realizing that "no man is an island" and thus my love for myself should include a love for others. Chessed isn't founded on selflessness, but on a definition of "Im ein ani li, mi li?" that includes you. Just as it includes my body, my soul, my wife, my children, my extended family, my neighborhood, the Jewish people, etc...

    I plan on quoting my translation of the relevant quote from RSS when I reply on Avodah. I find a comments section a cramped place to work. The haqdamah (in both languages, a scan of the original Hebrew starts at the end and works backward) is available on my blog.


  6. The Ramban set the record straight in the first part by stating a
    principle that one cannot be expected to love another as he loves his
    own life. Then he shows that it is not only a svara but R Akiva
    paskens that this is the Torah's understanding as well, ie., one can't
    be expected to love another in a way that conflicts with chayecha
    kodmin. If you wish to connect this to jealousy the Torah would be in
    the odd position of telling him to be jealous and thereby to live.
    Furthermore, jealousy does not rear its ugly head in the first
    section's text or in its ideas.

    Then the Ramban says "RATHER the Torah commands him to love his fellow
    in all matters (in a non chayecha kodmin situation which is the only
    way that this love is possible) in the way that he loves his life
    REGARDING kol hatov --
    all the good things. Meaning, it is possible to love another as
    oneself regarding all the good things.

    His wealth, his chachma, his daas, his property have absolutely
    nothing to do with me. And not wishing him the best in these areas is
    simply the bad middah of jealousy.

    Hence my comment about a zero sum game applying in the first part not the last.

    This is not an interestingly creative reading - it's just what's there
    without assumptions of how the love is experienced or felt since that
    is not the subject matter.

    Take away the questions and subjects that are bothering you and read
    carefully and I think you will agree that that is simply what he says.

    (If you want a topical application this is all about keeping up with
    the Joneses, competition etc...)

  7. I hereby object that I am not saying the same idea as Tzvei Dinim.
    Rather, I am saying that there is are two kinds of loving someone like myself.
    1) Feeling a personal bond to someone as close as if he is myself, which the Ramban says is impossible.
    2) Another kind of love that is less personal - merely to feel that I would like my friend to have all he lacks.
    The Ramban concludes that the Torah is speaking of this second kind of love.

  8. The ideas being presented are nice - I just don't see them in the Ramban.

    BTW the Rav Hutner has a discussion of the Ramban in his Pachad Yitzchok to Shavuos. It is interesting he only talks about the first half of the Ramban but not the second.

    The Maharasha is also relevant

    Maharsha (Shabbos 31a): That which is hateful to you don’t do to your fellow – That is what is written in the Torah (Vayikra 19:18): And you shall love your fellow as yourself. This requires careful examination also the fact that the Hillel is expressing this in Aramaic which was their language in Jerusalem at that time. Nevertheless why is the positive language of the verse transformed into a negative expression, “That which is hateful to you don’t do to your fellow” If this was a simple translation of the verse from Hebrew to Aramaic it should have been expressed in a positive form as we find in Targum Onkelos? A possible answer is that the verse is in fact only to be understood in the negative formulation as a negative commandment since the beginning of the verse in fact says, “Don’t take revenge or bear a grudge” and this is just a continuation of these prohibitions. In other words, just as you are not to take revenge you are ot to do anything bad of those things that you yourself hate. Therefore this commandment of loving your fellow as yourself is not instructing you to do good to others. That is because there is another commandment that your life takes precedent of that of others which precludes an obligation to do positive things. Therefore what is left is that you are not to do negative things to others…


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.