Messianic Judaism

Five Levels of Love: The Didache and Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself

Now the Way of Life is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, you shall love your fellow as yourself. Whatever you do not want to happen to you, do not do to one another. (Didache 1.2)

The Didache opens with the dual injunction to “love God who made you” and “love your fellow as yourself.” This is obviously drawing on the teachings of Yeshua about the greatest commandment, and this then becomes the backbone of the teachings of the Didache. In other words, the rest of the book from this point forward is a commentary on how to observe these two love commandments.

Recently I came across a fascinating teaching on the commandment to “love your fellow as yourself.” [1] Although I could not find the name of the author on the article, it came from one of the teachers at Congregation B’nai Avraham, which is an Orthodox synagogue in Brooklyn, New York. The teaching purported that there are five levels of love to loving your fellow and I immediately could see the parallels in the Didache. Let’s examine them together.

Level One

The first level is refraining from doing harmful actions toward your fellow, such as not stealing from them or gossiping about them. We find this in the words of Hillel: “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor” (b.Shabbat 31a).

This is found in the Didache’s second half of the commandment to love your fellow: “Whatever you do not want to happen to you, do not do to one another.” Chapter 2 of the Didache expands upon this as “the second commandment.” In a way, it is a passive love in which we ensure that we don’t harm our neighbor, but at the same time, by itself, it does not give directives toward positive action.

Level Two

Level two of loving one’s fellow consists of not only avoiding harmful actions but also of doing to him as you would have done unto you. It includes actions such as returning a lost item or dealing honestly with him in business. Our Master says: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

Right after verse two of chapter 1 quoted above the Didache expounds on what positive actions comprise loving your fellow as yourself:

This is the teaching about these matters: Speak well of those who speak ill of you, and pray for your enemies; fast for those who persecute you, for what special favor do you merit if you love those who love you? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? However, you are to love those who hate you, and you will not have any enemies. Restrain yourself from natural and physical inclinations: if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him, and you will be complete. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. If someone takes away your cloak, give him your tunic also. If someone takes away what is yours, do not demand it back, for you are not even able to get it back. (Didache 1:3-5)

Though this is only the second level of loving your neighbor, the Didache lays out quite high standards for how this looks. “However, … you are still at the level of loving your fellow like yourself, but not exactly as yourself. You are still putting yourself first.” [2]

Level Three

The third level of loving your fellow is the level of realizing that the love of one’s fellow is the love of one’s self:

The third level is embodied in the approach of the Alter Rebbe—c’mocha mamesh—your fellow is literally you. The Alter Rebbe writes in chapter 32 of Tanya that we are all brothers one with each other—we all came from the giant soul of Adam, we all have one Father in Heaven. When we love our fellow, we are actually loving ourselves because we are truly one with him. [3]

The Didache indeed teaches that a disciple of the Master must have a healthy dose of love for oneself. After all, how do you “love your fellow as yourself,” if you don’t love yourself. We are to love God who created us, i.e., created us just as we should be. Furthermore, we also see the concept of the connection of all within the community:

Do not turn away someone who is in need; rather, share all things in common with your brother. Do not claim ownership, for if you are common partners in what is immortal, how much more so in what is mortal! (Didache 4.8)

The community of the Didache realized that discipleship is a community experience and to give love to another was to build up even yourself.

Level Four

Moving up the ladder to level four, in this form of love we must actively seek out actions and deeds of love that we can do for our fellow. Unlike in level two where those positive actions are merely in response to something that has happened, this level calls for us to look for opportunities to love our fellow:

The Friediker Rebbe gave over a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev: in Pirkei Avos, it is taught, “Any Torah [learned] that is not accompanied by work, ultimately will be nullified.” The Baal Shem Tov says that “work” means having a preoccupation with loving your fellow as yourself. If you learn Torah, but you do not love your fellow, you ultimately will have no Torah. [4]

We see this level of love also reflected in the Didache. For example, the Didache on many occasions stresses charity and taking care of the needs of the poor. At the end of chapter 1, we read: “Let your donation sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give it” (Didache 1.6). The sweat represents the eagerness with which to give to those who need it. We must seek out opportunities to share in the bounty that God has given us.

Level Five

The highest level of love is to love without expecting anything back:

If you have something to offer, and your fellow needs something, do not wait for them to ask—go to them and help. And do not do this because you will be blessed or rewarded. Do it purely out of love. [5]

In my mind, this seems to correspond to the injunction in the Didache that implies that some people must give up their lives:

Do not hate any human being; but some you are to rebuke, and some you are to pray for, yet some you are to love even more than your own life. (Didache 2.7)

Giving up one’s life for another is the ultimate form of love, one that can never be paid back. This is certainly the example of our Master Yeshua who gave up his life for the salvation of all humanity. This is true selfless love that far surpasses all the other levels.

Conclusion

The Master tells us that they will know we are his disciples by our love for one another. For me, seeing the commandment of loving one’s fellow broken down into five levels was quite insightful. While the commandment of love applies to everyone, I imagine that all of us love different individuals on different levels of this sliding love scale. Certainly on the highest four levels. At any rate, this should encourage us as followers of the Master to keep striving to higher levels of love and not be complacent with the lower rungs. If we will be known by our love may it be of the highest quality.

For more on the Didache check out First Fruits of Zion’s new Messianic Jewish translation and commentary on the Didache entitled The Way of Life: The Rediscovered Teachings of the Twelve Jewish Apostles to the Gentiles.

Footnotes:
  1. “Loving Your Fellow as Yourself: Five Levels of Love,” n.p. (cited 26 March, 2018). Online: http://www.bnaiavraham.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Maimonides-613-Loving-Your-Fellow-As-Yourself-email.pdf.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.

Source: First Fruits of Zion

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