Bible Review 11:4, August 1995

The Most Basic Law in the Bible

It is easy to “love” the war-ravaged Bosnians, the AIDS-stricken Zaireans or the bereaved of Oklahoma City. But what of the strangers in our midst, the vagrants on our sidewalks?

By Jacob Milgrom

Bible Review

The commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) was declared the fundamental ethic in Christianity and Judaism by Jesus and Rabbi Akiva, respectively.1 The Hebrew original consists of only three words. I shall discuss them, for limitations of space, in summary form.

1. weahavta, “You shall love.” How can love be commanded? The answer simply is that this Hebrew word implies not only an attitude or emotion, but also deeds. This is especially true of Deuteronomy, which speaks of a covenantal love. One loves the stranger by providing him with food and shelter (Deuteronomy 10:18–19). One loves God by obeying his commandments (Deuteronomy 11:1), and God, in turn, loves Israel by subduing its enemies (Deuteronomy 7:8).

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