How much love can one be expected to show to a neighbour? Hillel’s answer is: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow” (Shab. 31a).
Mendelssohn explains, “If the text means that man must love his fellow as himself, how could the Almighty command something which is beyond human capacity?
“To fulfil such a command to the letter, man would have to grieve for his fellow’s sorrows just as he grieves for his own. This would be intolerable, since scarcely a moment passes without hearing of someone’s misfortune. Hillel therefore interpreted this passage in a negative manner. At least do nothing to your neighbour which you would not like to be done to yourself.”
Nachmanides says, “‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ is not meant literally, since man cannot love his neighbour as his own soul. The Torah implied that we should wish our neighbour to enjoy the same wellbeing that we wish ourselves.
“Sometimes a person will be interested in his neighbour’s welfare in certain respects only; he may wish him wealth, but not scholarly attainments and the like. But even if he wishes him well, in everything, he will still not want him to be absolutely equal with him. He will still want to be superior in some respect. It was this form of selfishness that the Torah condemned. A man should wish his fellow well in all things, just as he wishes his own self.”
A further problem. What does kamocha – “as yourself” really mean?
Mendelssohn’s answer is, “Kamocha is not usually used adverbially, but rather adjectivally, meaning, ‘similar to you’. Love your neighbour who is as yourself. Every man was created in the image of God. Love him because he is as yourself.”
Nachmanides says, “The text is concerned with love in its qualitative and not in its quantitative sense. A person will not love his animal in the same way as he loves his son. A man’s wife, his silver, gold, fig and vine may all be the objects of his love. In each case, the nature of the love is different.
“But in objects of the same category, the strength or intensity of love may vary. God commanded us to love our fellow man, just as we love ourselves. The quality and nature of our love must be of the highest category – parallel to that which we employ in promoting our own welfare.”