Kedoshim: True Torah, True Love
Many people learn Torah, but how can a person know if he's on the right track and learning properly? Here's an effective way to test yourself...
by Rabbi Lazer Brody
"And you shall love your neighbor like you love yourself" (Leviticus 19:18)
A Roman soldier came to Hillel and said that he would become a righteous convert if the elderly rabbi would teach him the whole Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel agreed and said, "Don't do to your neighbor what is hateful to you; this is the entire Torah – the rest is elaboration."
Why did Hillel use a negative "don't do" approach with the Roman soldier? We see that Rebbe Akiva used a positive approach with his students when he said virtually the same thing: "Love your neighbor as yourself, this is a major principle of the Torah." In other words, the Torah is based on a positive principle.
The answer is simple. Hillel was speaking to an individual who had not yet converted and had not yet tasted the light of Torah. The Roman soldier didn't yet have the tools to grasp the meaning of true love, the altruistic totally non-egotistic connection between souls, that the Torah demands of us. The Roman soldier could easily understand that if you hit someone, the latter will retaliate in like manner. So, if you don't want your own skull crushed, don't go around hitting others on the head. This is a basic requirement for an orderly society, but it's far from what the Torah demands in the positive mitzvah of loving one's fellow as one loves him/herself, as Rebbe Akiva taught his students.
We're still left with a nagging question about Hillel's answer to the Roman soldier. What in the world did he intend when he said, "This is the entire Torah – the rest is elaboration." What in the world do the Red Heifer, the laws of Shabbat, tzitzit, tefillin or the laws of kashrut have to do with loving your neighbor as yourself?
With Hashem's loving grace, the answer here is also simple. The entire Torah is Divine light. Someone who learns Torah properly merits Divine illumination, as King Solomon says, "A person's wisdom illuminates his countenance." Rebbe Nachman teaches that wisdom with the capability of illumination is the Divine wisdom of Torah. There is no greater lover of humanity than Hashem. Therefore, the proof that a person is learning Torah properly and becoming privy to Divine wisdom is whether he loves his or her fellow human or not.
In this manner, we are able to understand Hillel. In other words, if you learn the laws of Shabbat, tzitzit, tefillin, kashrut or anything else in the Torah, and your intent is to learn in order to do Hashem's will and get close to Him – and not because of any other self-serving motives – then you automatically begin to unconditionally love your fellow human, for you reflect the Divine light of the Torah that you have learned. This is the best evidence of learning Torah for the sake of doing Hashem's will, Torah l'shma.
We consequently have an effective barometer to indicate whether our Torah learning is what it's supposed to be or not: if our Torah learning brings us to a greater love of our fellow human, then we're on the right path. If not, then we must assess ourselves and find out what we're doing wrong.
Rebbe Nachman says explicitly that when people suffer from baseless hate, they gossip about one another. This makes sense, for baseless hate and gossip are both transgressions of Torah, and our sages said, "One transgression leads to another." And, if they gossip, says Rebbe Nachman, they'll end up acting like clowns. A clown is the opposite of a Torah scholar. Two people can learn Torah, yet while the true learner becomes a lover of humanity, someone else becomes a conceited fool who makes fun of other people. It's alarming but true.
In summary, true Torah learning brings us to unity and love of one another. That's just what we need to bring Moshiach, soon!
 - Shabbat 31a
 - Breishit Raba 27:7
 - Ecclesiastes 8:1
 - Likutei Moharan I:1
 - Sefer Hamidot, "Lashon Hara", 6
 - Avot 4:2
Rabbi Lazer Brody was born in Washington, D.C. in 1949. After receiving his bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Maryland in 1970, he moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces regular army, and served in one of the elite special-forces units. He is a decorated combat veteran of two wars and numerous of counter-insurgence and anti-terrorist missions on both sides of Israel's borders.
Rabbi Brody is the English-language editor of Breslev Israel's highly popular English-language website at www.breslev.co.il, and the founder and director of Emuna Outreach. Between Breslov Israel and Emuna Outreach, he devotes his time to spreading emuna and particularly the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev around the globe.
"Lazer Beams," Rabbi Brody's award-winning daily web journal, has been instrumental in helping tens of thousands of people around the globe find joy and fulfillment in their lives.