Acts of Love by Rabbi Sariel Malitsky


Throughout Sefirat HaOmer, we find ourselves listening to speeches and Shiurim dealing with the topics of Achdut and Ahavat Yisrael. These are the days when the students of Rabi Akiva perished for not showing due Kavod to one another, so the topic is quite appropriate. However, often the messages we hear are somewhat vague. What exactly does it mean to love every Jew? We try to eradicate the Middah of Sin’at Chinam, but is that all we need to do? Is it as simple as saying that we love everyone?

The Torah in this week’s Parashah states that a person must fear his mother and father. The Gemara (Kiddushin 31b) asks, “What is fear? Do not sit in his seat, do not talk in his place, and do not openly disagree with him. What is honor? Serve him food and drink, dress him, and help him in and out.” Rav Yeruchim Levovitz (Da’at Torah, Kedoshim) is bothered by the Gemara’s queries of “what is fear” and “what is honor.” Do we not know what the words fear and honor mean?

The Gemara records minor actions which seem to minimize the grandeur of certain Mitzvot. Rav Yerucham Levovitz writes that this Gemara teaches a major Torah principle. All Mitzvot, even those we assume to be primarily Mitzvot of the heart, need to be acted upon. For example, the Mitzvot of having faith in Hashem and of loving Hashem also require action. In general, we must manifest our feelings through concrete actions. So, while the feelings in our heart are a crucial and absolutely vital component to a Mitzvah, they are not enough; they are only the prerequisites. The action is what is most important. After all, we refer to positive commandments as ‘Mitzvot Aseih,’ literally, ‘Mitzvot of action,’ and prohibitions are called ‘Mitzvot Lo Ta’aseh,’ literally, ‘Mitzvot of not acting.’ It is for this reason, writes Rabbeinu Yeruchim, that the Gemara records both actions that we must perform and those from which we should refrain in order to fulfill the Mitzvah.

The Gemara (Shabbat 31a) relates an account where a gentile came before Hillel and requested that he be taught the whole Torah “while standing on one foot.” Hillel, in somewhat of a surprising response, says, “What is hated to you, do not do to you friend.” Maharsha asks why Hillel didn’t simply tell him the Pasuk from this week’s Parashah, “VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha,” “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (VaYikra 18:19). Rabbeinu Yerucham Levovitz explains based on the principle above that to love one’s friend internally is insufficient. Hillel wanted to teach this gentile that our actions are what count. The key word in Hillel’s response is ‘do’: we must refrain from acting in ways that might hurt our friends. We see that the Mitzvah of loving our neighbor is not merely to feel the love and to talk about the love we feel towards each other. Ahavat Yisael requires actions and restraint as well.

Rambam (Hilchot Aveil 14:1) writes that the Mitzvot of visiting the sick, comforting the mourner, burying the dead, rejoicing at a wedding, and acting with Chesed are all Rabbinically mandated Mitzvot. However, he notes that these actions fulfill the Mitzvah of loving one’s friend as he loves himself. In fact, Rambam concludes that VeAhavta LeRei’acha Komeicha teaches us “anything that you would want others to do to you, you should do to others.” Rambam seems to articulate the same principle as Rabbeinu Yerucham. Ahavat Yisrael and Sin’at Chinam are not just vague terms. They require us to act in a certain way.

Rabi Akiva’s students perished because they did not show Kavod to each other. The Gemara does not state that they didn’t love each other or that they hated each other. The Gemara was precise in its recording of their sin. They may have loved each other, but the love was insufficient since it was not manifested in their actions.

Sefirat HaOmer is our preparation for receiving the Torah. Until we become people who do for others, we cannot receive the Torah. “Derech Eretz Kadmah LeTorah,” “Proper behavior is a prerequisite to Torah observance.” The Brisker Rav once asked why the Torah does not have many commandments regarding Middot. He answered that the Torah was given to Benei Adam, people. A person who doesn’t have exemplary Middot, i.e., if he doesn’t do things for others, is not a Ben Adam. This is perhaps the reason why many have the custom to study Pirkei Avot during the weeks of Sefirat HaOmer. Pirkei Avot is all about Middot. We must first internalize the messages of Pirkei Avot in order to be ready to accept the Torah.

The Ahavat Shalom writes that the Gematria of Ahavah, love, is 13. When two people love each other, they form two 13s, or 26, the Gematria of the four-letter name of Hashem. In order for the Shechinah to reside in our midst, we must first increase the amount of Ahavah, thus increasing the presence of Hashem in the world. The Chafetz Chaim, in his introduction to his work on Lashon HaRa, explains that in order for us to merit the ultimate Ge’ulah, we must first rectify that which caused this Galut. The second Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because of Sin’at Chinam, and the students of Rabi Akiva died because they didn’t show Kavod to each other. It will only be our acts of love that ultimately, with the help of Hashem, will bring the ultimate redemption speedily in our days.

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