Yeshua taught the crowds, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mat 5:43-44). An enemy is someone who actively seeks to harm you, and given a chance, may even kill you. In Hebrew an “enemy” (אֹיֵב, oyev) is closely connected to the idea of “hostility” (אֵיבָה, eyva) and (אָיַב, ayav) means to “be hostile” to behave in an adversarial fashion, with enmity. The equivalent of Greek verb ἀγαπάω (agapao) in Hebrew is אָהַב (ahav). The term means essentially the same in either language and is very broad. It describes relationships between friends or family members, between bride and groom, between slaves and masters and of course people with God. Torah indeed teaches not to hate relatives and to love neighbors (Lev 19:18).
But Jesus takes it further when he talks about enemies. And that resounds another teaching in Torah, “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him.” (Ex 23:4–5). The verses do not exactly say that “one should love the one who hates him”, but the message of treating the enemy with goodness, rather than with hatred, not in adversarial way, is very obvious. Love can be a positive disposition towards someone, a righteous friendliness that does not require warm fuzzy feelings of affection.
For many years Israel brought sacrifices on behalf of the seventy nations of the world (b. Sukkah 55b) yet some of them were bent on Israel’s destruction. One Jewish tradition notes, “behold we offer You seventy oxen in their behalf, and they should have loved us. Instead, in the place of my love, they hate me (Psalms 109)” (Num. Rabbah 1) Though not every Jew embraced this, treating enemies well and even praying for them was not unknown in Yeshua’s days. The Second Temple had special prayers and sacrifices on behalf of rulers and even for the emperor of Rome. Yeshua’s last words as he was dying was a prayer for those who executed him.
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