Do Not Do Unto Others

Do Not Do Unto Others
The Talmud recounts that a Gentile once approached Hillel with the request that Hillel convert him to Judaism. This Gentile did not want to go through a lengthy regimen of learning, so he told Hillel; “I want you to teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot”. Hillel’s response endures as a lesson for the generations.

Hillel taught this Gentile; “Do not do unto others that which you hate done unto yourself – that is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary, go and study it.”

We sense the beauty of Hillel’s teaching, but we will try to go beyond the surface and give some articulation to the depth of this basic truth.

A basic fundamental of Judaism is the concept that man is essentially good. The Bible teaches that God created man in His image which means that each and every one of us is imbued with a capability for Godliness. Yet when we step out into the world, we are confronted with the question; where is the goodness of man? Yes, there are many good people, but there are so many self-centered and evil people. Where is this Godliness that man is supposed to posses?

The fact is that man is capable of much evil. Man is capable of incorporating so much evil into his being that the spark of Godliness is completely buried. But it is still there. It can never be completely eradicated – even from the soul of the most evil person. There is always going to be one area where man is still going to be sensitive to right and wrong, there must remain one detail of the spirit which did not entirely succumb to evil. That area is when a person is hurt by others. A person could go through life without any sensitivity towards morality, justice, or a sense of right and wrong – until he or she gets hurt. When a person is hurt, their inner beings magnify every detail of the injustice, of the immorality and of the ungodliness of those that caused them the hurt. When the most evil person on earth is hurt, you will suddenly hear him or her using terms such as: “injustice”, “not fair”, “immoral” – words and concepts that would never otherwise be a part of their vocabulary. The fact is that even the most righteous amongst us are more acutely sensitive to the concepts of right and wrong when they feel the effects of an injustice. The peak of our sensitivity to God’s truth is manifested when we are hurt.

Conversely, the one area of life where it is most difficult to apply our sensitivity to truth, morality and justice, is in our own dealings with other people. The most righteous person on earth is disqualified by the Torah from serving as a witness or a judge in a case where he has a vested interest. The fact is that our love of ourselves blinds us to the truth in these situations.

Hillel was teaching this Gentile; Judaism is all about the Godliness that is already inherent in your very soul and spirit. What you need to do is to take that sensitivity to truth and morality – from the point where it burns most brightly; when you are hurt by others. Learn from those experiences – not to hate others, but rather, when you are hurt – take the opportunity to discover greater depths of understanding into the concepts of right and wrong, just and unjust, moral and immoral. Now that you have learned these concepts, apply these truths throughout your life. Allow this understanding to illuminate your life all the way to the furthest corner of your life – all the way to the point where you are naturally insensitive to these truths – to the point when you find yourself dealing with others.

This is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary – go learn.

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Yisroel C. Blumenthal

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5 Responses to Do Not Do Unto Others

  1. Tsvi Jacobson says:

    Good article. I always wondered why R. Hillel put this in the negative.

  2. Annelise says:

    Even though a great reflection of God’s love comes when we are generous to each other, our selfishness is still most obvious when we do unkind or unjust things. Maybe that’s why he stated it in the negative; for the same reason that the prophets sometimes emphasised the evil of injustice with more urgency.

    I’m interested in this idea that issues of conscience, interpersonal kindness, and such are at the heart of the Torah; that the rest is commentary. Of course I agree that loving God and others is central to truly following in the ways he gave for Israel to know him by, and is reflected in so many. On the other hand, it seems like there are commandments that are not simply about moral righteousness, justice, or generosity, because there is no demand for those who aren’t Jews to follow them. Surely God’s laws are good, not arbitrary; what do you think the purpose of those other aspects of the law is? Do you think they are mainly to be a physical demonstration of the nation being set apart, or is there something innately precious in them?

    I guess if they do exist mainly just to show and preserve the way Israel is consecrated, then following for that reason (or without question of reason, when things are beyond our understanding) would come under loving God. I’m just wondering whether you see anything else alongside that.

  3. Liz S. says:

    It’s generally fairly easy to do kind things for others — but it’s hard to refrain from doing harm unto another in a weak moment. Even something as simple as holding a door for someone, or smiling and nodding at a passerby, can make someone’s day a little brighter. When one’s heart is heavy, however, we tend to be less interested in even the smallest kindnesses.

    I think that Hillel’s point in framing the statement as he did was to stress the idea that even in a negative moment, we must remember to treat our fellow human (and non-human) beings with respect and kindness. Whether we are tired or upset or furious, there is no excuse for failing to treat someone else the way one would want to be treated. When we are angry, we use harsh words and tones that can hurt — but when harsh words and actions are aimed at us, they hurt, especially when we are not the “rightful” source of the negativity behind those deeds. If I fight with my spouse, that is not my colleague’s fault. If my boss takes me to task, my child is not to blame. I should not take out my unhappiness on others, as I would not want them to lash out at me.

    In some ways, it’s not dissimilar to the adage about the butterfly’s sneeze causing a hurricane on the other side of the world. Every word, every deed bears repercussions. It is important to consider the effect our actions will have. Acts of kindness carry more weight themselves when the doing thereof bears away the heaviness of our hearts.

  4. Sometimes i used to think i had to conquer land by God’s commandments in Genesis 1:28.
    כבשה ורדו in v.28i means ” conquer and take control of the fish of the sea, birds of the air, and all moving beasts on the earth”
    or ” conquer land and take control of the…” ??

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