Improving on the Torah?

What’s the difference between the new commandment “love one another as I have loved you” and the original version “love your neighbor as yourself”?

The unveiling of the new Torah display at Trinity International University. (Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash)

Yeshua said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). Was he trying to add something to the Torah? The “new commandment” was not an addition to the Torah. Rabbi Yechiel Tzi Lichtenstein explains that the commandment can be considered a “new commandment” in that it goes further than Leviticus 19:18 as it calls upon a man to love his neighbor more than his own life:

By this it is a new commandment, for Moses only said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” meaning, “and not more than this.” Therefore R. Akiva ruled in the Talmud (b.Baba Metsia 62a): “Your life has precedence over your friend’s life,” but in the view of the Master and as shown in his deeds, the life of your friend has precedence … As Paul says in Romans 5:7, “Even for a righteous person it is difficult for someone to die.” (Even Tzohar)

Yeshua called upon His disciples to love one another as He loved them—sacrificially and impartially. He desired His disciples to distinguish themselves from other schools of discipleship and movements in Judaism by their profound and unshakable love for one another: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Paul Levertoff considers love the defining mark of Yeshua’s followers:

Love was the essential and characteristic keynote of the Messianic fellowship. The Messiah is the personification of divine love. He showed what real love is. Therefore, to imitate Him means to love as he did … Christ’s love is not only an example for the fellowship, but is the power which awakens love in it. His love is powerful because it is God’s Love. (Love and the Messianic Age)

The Master’s “new commandment” made a strong impression on young John the son of Zebedee as he reclined next to the Master. More than half a century after that seder, he still pondered those words, telling his students, “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 John 3:11). He reminded His readers that this commandment came from the Master: “Love one another, just as He commanded us” (1 John 3:23, 1 John 2:7-9, 3:23, 4:21, 5:2-3; 2 John 5). Even at the end of His life, John continued to admonish his disciples with the words, “Little children, love one another.”

The blessed evangelist John, when he delayed at Ephesus up to the highest old age and could scarcely be carried to church in the hands of his disciples and was not able to put together a statement of several words, used to offer in different sayings nothing but: “Little children, love one another.” At last the disciples and brethren who were present, tired of the fact that they always heard the same thing, said, “Teacher, why do you always say this?” John made a worthy response: “Because it was the Master’s command, and if it alone is done, it is enough.” (Jerome, Commentary on Galatians 6.10)

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