(Vere, Stein Atle. ©2011. “Hilel: I Am For Me”. brakha.blogspot.com.)
In the Tora תורה (“Instruction”), the name for the first five books that begin the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), the Book of Va'Yikra (Leviticus 19:18) preserves a famous Mitsva מצוה (“command”) by God.
“And, you will love your fellow as you.”
ואהבת את רעך כמוך .
The Mitsva means. First, you must love “you”. Be yourself. Empower yourself. Then, you must love your “fellow”. Love them as much as you love yourself. Help them be themselves. Empower them.
Hilel explains the Mitsva.
The Rabanim (rabbis) compile the Book of the Mishna משנה (“Recitation”) circa 200. In the section, Avot (“Fathers” 1:13), the Rabanim preserve the teachings of the ancient sage, Hilel הלל , said to live 120 years from circa −110 to 10. Hilel paraphrase the Mitsvot to love ones fellow, to emphasize its implications, “saying” continually:
“If theres no I am for me, who ‹is› for me? And when I am for my self ‹only›, what am I? And if not now, when?”
אם אין אני לי, מי לי? וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני? ואם לא עכשיו, אימתיי?
First you must “love you” yourself: “If theres no I am for me, who ‹is› for me?” No one else really knows what you need. You must be for yourself.
But then you must “love your fellow” as much as you love yourself: “If I am for my self ‹only›, what am I?” One who only cares about oneself is a “malicious” רשע criminal. Compare the proverb in the Tanakh: “The lifeforce of a malicious one lusts badness. ‹That› ones fellows will not be favored in ‹that› ones eyes.” נפש רשע אותה־רע לֹא־יחן בעיניו רעהו . (Mishle 21:10.) To fail to do compassionate actions is malice.
Hilel goes on to add, “If not now, when?” The Mitsva, “you will love” means you will do “compassionate actions” חסדים . You must actualize the positive emotion by means of reallife physical efforts. To not do loving actions, is to fail to love. To fulfill the Mitsva to love is to put love into action. Thus, the Mitsva commands, you “will” love. When must one fulfill this obligation? You must fulfill the obligation to love as often “as you” yourself desire to be loved. All the time. Right “now”!
You must, first, exist in order to do compassionate actions.
There are no compassionate actions unless you exist. Therefore, it is an ethical imperative, you must be for you. You must empower yourself, enough to keep yourself strong enough to do compassionate actions for others. This minimal selfishness is necessary. It is for the sake of your love for your altruistic self.
But, you must never be for your physical self only. You must share your power with your “fellows”, be for them too. Your true self is your altruistic self, the part of you desires the wellbeing of your fellows.
Hilel distinguishes between “for me” and “for my self”. The true “me” isnt just “my self”. The true me includes my “fellows” too. From the perspective of God, we are one. This unification in God is the true self, the altruistic self that does good for each person, including myself and my fellow.
Hilel explicitly asks, “What am I?” What is the real “me”?
The altruistic self is the spiritual self, the true self.