“Love your fellow as yourself.”
Rabbi Israel of Rizhin illustrated this with the following story:
” A Faithful Friend”
Once there were two friends whose souls were intertwined with a great love. They lived very far from one other. One of them was falsely accused of a crime, convicted and sentenced to death. A proclamation was made that everyone in the land must attend this criminal’s execution.
When his friend came to the execution, he recognized him. He cried out loudly, “Leave that man alone! It is I who committed the crime.”
The execution was stopped. The matter was brought before the king, who he summoned both men and asked them the truth of the matter. Only one of them could have committed the crime, so why is the other one willing to die in vain?
The friend of the condemned man answered the king, “I know that my friend did not commit any crime. I know his character. He couldn’t have done it. And so this is nothing but a miscarriage of justice. My life depends on my friend’s life. It is better that I die and not see his death. In fact, if I have received such a punishment as having to see my friend’s death, I must myself be deserving of death.”
And the other man replied in a similar fashion.
When the king saw the great love between these two men, he let them both free. And he requested of them, “You are such great friends that I would like you to take me into your circle of friendship, with that same amount of love. And I will be the same kind of friend to you.”
When we reach the level of “you shall love your fellow as yourself,” Hashem desires to rest His presence amongst us, so that we will also love Him, and that He will be our faithful Friend.
Imrei Tzaddikim, by Meir Barenstein, p. 38