to Ponder Number 100
In a world which is filled with much animosity, the concept of Universal Love has become a famous and most discussed ambition. We are taught that only when all men start loving each other equally will all our problems be solved and universal peace ensue. Any discrimination whereby we love some people more than others will lead to more problems, hatred and jealousy.
To emphasize this philosophy we are reminded that this is indeed the biblical view as well. The famous verse teaching us that we should "love our neighbor as we love ourselves" (Vayikra 19:18) is often quoted by those who are convinced that we are in need of universal equal love.
It is therefore most remarkable
that the Talmud records a famous anecdote which seems to challenge
the very concept of equal love for all.
How did Rabbi Akiva come
to this ruling while it seems to run against the very Biblical verse
which he considers the ultimate principle of the Torah? After all
it says clearly to love one's neighbor as much as one loves oneself!
No doubt Ben Petura was right and he, Rabbi Akiva wrong! The reason
is that Rabbi Akiva did not believe it would be possible to ever love
a person as much as one loves oneself. This he said is not humanly
possible. Self preservation is the very sentiment by which all human
beings live and it is only with that unprecedented self love that
one can love another. This is indeed what the verse suggests: Love
your neighbor under the condition that you love yourself. But
even more important is the fact that the text does not really say
that one should love one's neighbor as much as one loves oneself.
In Hebrew this would read: Ve'ahavta re'acha kamocha" The biblical
text however says: Ve'ahavta LE-re'acha kamocha. You shall love towards
your neighbor as much as you love yourself. This means that one does
not need to love one's neighbor as much as one loves oneself but one
should wish all good things which one wishes for oneself also for
The notion of loving all
people equally is a farce and in fact destructive. What would be of
a man who would go on his knees and say to his wife: My darling, I
love you. I love you so much. I love you as much as I love
much as I love
as much as I love that other woman, the one sitting
in her garden opposite our home. Oh, and that one riding her bike
past the grocery shop
I love you as much as I love all the women
who I never met
I love you as much as I love anybody else on
We live for love. We are
prepared to give up anything so as to experience love. But we should
never forget that love means preference. Nobody gets turned on by
universal love. Real love distinguishes. One loves a person because
he or she is special, because he or she is different, not because
he or she is just like another. And since love is the most unusual
and greatest thing which can ever befall man, it is love which distinguishes
what motivates us in ways nothing else can do. It gets us out of our
bed in the morning, makes one feel warm, makes us tingle inside, causes
us to do heroic things in our life, makes us to bring sacrifices and
show unprecedented loyalty.
It was Stalin and Mao who tried to create a world of universal love. This became a world in which all people dressed the same, ate the same, talked the same and thought the same. It was a world without love, warmth and joy and an invitation for total disaster. This is also the mistaken philosophy of those who are followers of Hare Krishna and some other Far East philosophies and perhaps Christianity's understanding of universal love as we have seen it in the days of the crusaders. Love cannot be distributed in equal portions. One should no doubt respect everybody and try to take care of them, but to believe that the world would get any better when we were to eliminate the notion of special love for special people is a bad mistake. Our world will only become better when we realize the truth of Rabbi Akiva's interpretation. (1)
Nathan Lopes Cardozo
(1) Ben Petura's
view does definitely not represent the authentic Jewish outlook on
life and love and in fact reminds us of the Christian interpretation
of love which claims to be universal. It therefore does not come as
a complete surprise that some scholars have expressed the opinion
that Ben Petura is in fact a corruption of the name Ben Pandora or
Ben Pantera. Pandora or Pantera is the name of Joseph, the father
of Jesus. (See Targum 11 on the scroll of Esther ) If so Ben Petura
is Jesus himself. (See also Tosefta Chullin 11:22,24) In that case
the Talmud states both opinions so as to counteract early Christian
interpretations of the Torah.
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