Putting Fellow Man First: Jonathan Pollard

By HaRav Shlomo Aviner - Mayanei HaYishua - January 6, 2005

[Translated from Hebrew by J4JP]

Jonathan Pollard is a true and faithful disciple of our forefather, Avraham Avinu, whose love of fellow man was thoroughly engraved upon his heart, even to the extent of self-sacrifice. Just as Avraham Avinu risked his life to save his nephew Lot, so too Jonathan Pollard put himself on the line to save the People of Israel.

Love of one's fellow man is a great quality. It is fostered by arduous work that the individual must do on himself. The individual must learn to transcend his own ego, to free himself from himself. Striving for selflessness is a great principle of the Torah; it the key to the entire Torah.

Although the Rambam states "Love your neighbor as yourself", this should not be interpreted literally because it is impossible and Rabbi Akiva says: "Your life comes before that of your fellow man". The Rambam is of course correct and this (latter interpretation) is the generally accepted principle. Nevertheless there are exceptions to the rule, and the Rambam refers to the Biblical Jonathan, son of King Saul, as one of them. About him it can be said that he loved David more than he loved himself . Jonathan ceded his hereditary crown to David and said to him: "Thou shalt be King over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee..." (Samuel 1: 23: 17).

So too our Jonathan. The stamp of love of fellow man was ever so deeply rooted in his heart and still is. The Torah verse about Jonathan, son of King Saul, which reads: "for he loved him as he loved his own soul..." (Samuel 1:20:17) is true also of our Jonathan. Our Jonathan loved Israel with all his soul; he has always loved Israel more than he loves himself.

There are many people in this world who think only of themselves. Their highest ideal is "I". Central to their way of being is the notion of disposability and self-gratification. All of their efforts are directed towards their own pleasure and convenience. There is nothing in their worldview which teaches them to overcome the natural tendency to selfishness ; on the contrary they nurture it. The individual is accountable only to himself. He has no responsibility for anyone else. And he has no sense of why anything he desires should not be his, other than his inability to possess it. His fellow man, to him, is nothing but a stumbling block, an annoyance, a problem to overcome. His central focus is on himself and there is an enormous gap between how he views himself and how he views others. His governing principle is: I place myself first and above all. Man-eat-man. A fractured world.

But we do not inhabit a world unto ourselves. We live in a unified world. HaRav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchov writes that we all come from the same quarry. In a unified world, man feels the pain of his fellow man. While it is true that Rabbi Akiva writes that "Your life comes before that of your fellow man," (Bava Metziah: samech bet) Maran HaRav Kook doubts whether the Halacha follows this or not and if the words of Rabbi Akiva - to put your fellow man before yourself - is an obligation or perhaps simply permission (Mishpat Kohain: kof mem dalet), but it is clear that in the army the life of your fellow man comes first.

That is, the Halacha is: "His loss or that of his fellow man; his loss comes first." As it is written: "Let there be no destitute among you", so let guarding against your own loss come first. In other words, one must first take care to ensure his own fortunes so as not to become destitute himself. But Chazal, (our sages of blessed memory) add: "One who keeps the mitzvah this way, will himself come to this." Rashi explains: Even though the written law does not oblige one, a person should not go according to the strict letter of the law in this matter and should not be exacting. If one will never take a loss and is always stringent, he is throws off the yoke of doing acts of kindness and giving tzedaka, and in the end he will be in need himself.

Jonathan, as we have said, had the love of fellow man embedded in his heart, and still does. Even when he was arrested, he made sure that the rest of his team members were able to escape. He took care of them before taking care of himself.

This is Jonathan's morality : putting fellow man first! For him, the life of his fellow man has always come before his own. Ashreinu! Fortunate are we as a Nation to have such people as this among us that we can look upon with admiration and who can serve as a model for the People.

To our sorrow, Jonathan has spent so many years in prison, and it is impossible to understand why the Nation has not come to his aid, especially since the entire foundation of Am Yisrael is brotherhood and dedication to one's fellow man. What is even more difficult to understand is why our government is not leading the struggle for the release of a man who himself is fit to lead.

Taking our model from Moshe Rabbeinu who redeemed the Jewish People from slavery in Egypt, the first thing Moshe Rabbeinu did was to go to his brothers and to place himself at risk on their behalf. This is what characterizes a Jewish leader. Brotherhood first; then come the gifts of leadership.

Throughout the generations of our History, Am Yisrael put itself on the line for each other; how much more so are we obliged to do so now that we have a state of our own! As our teacher, Maran Rav Kook said, Redemption is built entirely upon ahavat cheenum - boundless love.

Jonathan is doubly afflicted. Bad enough that he is in prison. Worse that he is in prison and the Government of Israel does not care about him. Nevertheless, we stand here (at demonstrations for Jonathan) and we declare: "We love you, Jonathan! We appreciate you, Jonathan! We look upon you as a teacher and a model of love of Israel, Jonathan!" This is the least we can do to help him. This is the least we can do to comfort his wounded soul.

As more and more of Am Yisrael, join together - hundreds of thousands and millions to shout: "We want Jonathan Pollard free!" - he will join us. With the help of G-d, he will join us speedily in Aretz HaKodesh, the holy land, which so owes him so much. He will rejoice with us, and inspire us as his light shines upon us. May it be so, speedily in our day!

J4JP Note:

The above article, originally published in Mayanei HaYishua in Hebrew, December 25, 2004, is an abbreviated version of HaRav Aviner's speech 8 Kislev 5765 at the 20th Anniversary Rally for Jonathan Pollard.
See Also: Other articles by HaRav Aviner: