You shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord. (Vayikra 19:18)
Each surveys the other
as though staring into water
at the image gazing back:
hard edges soften
dissolved by gentle ripples.
Waves unroll in circles
moving ever outwards
extending self to other
until God’s clear reflection
shimmers through the water.
The siddur of the Ba’al HaTanya instructs that it is good to preface prayer as follows: I take upon myself the positive commandment of “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The mitzva of Ahavat Yisrael is the gateway through which one comes to stand before the Blessed One in prayer.”
In the book Itturei Torah by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, he cites R’ M Cohen: The Holy One Blessed be He says, “Whenever you each love your neighbor, then truly, “I am the Lord”, as it were, I am asking, take Me also with you, into your circle.”
In Rabbi Yakov Nagen’s book Lehitorer Leyom Chadash – Waking up to a New Day, in the chapter on Kedoshim entitled The Art of Love, (also found on his website at this link, http://yakovnagen.com/index.php/parshat-hashavoa/articles/vayikra1/733-kedushim, he asks, “Who is beloved?” and answers, “The one who loves his fellows.” Rabbi Nagen recounts a story told of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhyn who was once travelling with his students and they were forced to traverse a dangerous forest. They were suddenly surrounded by a band of robbers who announced that they intended to rob and then murder them. Rabbi Chaim requested a few moments to enable him and his disciples to prepare to die, and during that time, he looked into the face of the leader of the bandits. After some time the leader yelled, “Flee!” and Rav Chaim and his group did so. When his students asked him how the miracle occurred, he explained, “When the robbers told us they intended to murder us, I was filled with rage and hatred. But I did not wish to leave this world feeling hatred and rage, so in order to overcome my anger, I worked on myself to feel empathy for the robbers. Seemingly, no-one had ever looked at the leader in that way before and so he was unable to harm us.” Rabbi Nagen cites Proverbs 27:19, “As in water, face answers face, so the heart of man to man.” He quotes Rashi’s explanation (Yebamot 117: 71) that as waters reflect back one’s facial expression – a smile or a grimace – so one’s heart is perceived by another, and radiating love will bring love in return.
Finally, Rabbi Nagen asks why this verse mandating love for one’s neighbor, ends with the words, “I am the Lord.” He brings a commentary in the Zohar on Parashat Acharei Mot (59: 72) which says that when friends sit together in brotherhood, God says, “Hineh ma tov u’mah na’im, shevet achim gam yachad – How good and pleasant it is when brothers sit down [also] together.” (Psalms 133: 1). The word “gam – also” [which would seem superfluous], says the Zohar, means that they are including God with them… “And not only is the Holy One Blessed be He listening to their conversation, and it is pleasant for Him and He rejoices in them, but He brings peace down upon them and peace is found in the world in their merit, as it is written, “For the sake of my brothers and friends, I shall say, “Peace be within you.” (Psalms 122:8)”