A “Torah expert” (νομικός; nomikos) once asked Yeshua, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk 10:25). Like a good rabbi, Jesus answered with a question: “What is written in the Torah?” (10:26). The learned man replied that, of all the Torah commands, it is most important to love God wholeheartedly (Deut 6:5), and also to love one’s neighbor (Lev 19:18). When the expert asked, “Who is my neighbour?”, Yeshua told a story about a Samaritan (Lk 10:30-35). Why did he do that?

The answer lies buried in the Hebrew text of Torah. In Leviticus 19:18 God instructs the Israelites as to how they should treat each other: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear a grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself” (NASB). The term translated as “neighbor” in this verse is רֵעַ (rea), which means “friend,” “companion,” or “close associate.” A number of synonyms, such as אָח (ach; “brother”), עָמִית (amit; “kin”) and בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ (bnei amecha; “children of your people”) appear in this same passage about Israelite relationships. But then comes a surprise; Leviticus goes beyond its discussion of relations within Israel and commands that God’s people also love the non-Israelite: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 19:34 NASB).

This command is a direct parallel to loving “your neighbour” (reacha; רֵעֲךָ) in Lev 19:18. But here God commands to love a גֵּר (ger)—“stranger,” “sojourner,” or “alien” who resides among the Israelites. The Lord says that any stranger is to be treated cordially, as if he or she were a “native” (ezrach; אֶזְרָח) of Israel. In light of this biblical background, it should make sense why Jesus tells a story about a Samaritan in Luke 10. Yeshua alludes to the context of the very passage the man quoted to him (Leviticus 19) and notes that even “strangers” and “outsiders” are to be treated as neighbours. Rabbi Jesus’ story was a challenge to the Torah expert to fully embrace God’s commandments.

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34 COMMENTS

  1. Many Orthodox Jews believe that neighbor refers to those who are within your circle and not just your family. Is this what people who belonged to groups like Sadducees also believed in ancient times?

  2. My apologies for digressing. Just a few questions I need clarity on:
    – What is your view on Gentile Christ followers being members of political parties (advocating for democracy, communism, federalism etc.), and them voting for a political parties during elections?

    – Would Christ and his Apostles vote today if they were still alive?

  3. Thank you this opens my understanding as to when I teach or speak on the subject. I knew to love everyone, but it makes it more clear to explain to others

    • To inherit eternal life… An inheritance and a promise is something the party has rights to. But it is not guaranteed. I can choose to disinherit my children, for example. It is not their legal right to lay claim to my estate if my will and testament say otherwise. Such is eternal life. The father gives it to those of his children who are “worthy”. You may not know this by many Jews in Yeshua’s day believed that unless they are deemed “worthy” they will not see resurrection after death. So there is no eternal life if you remain dead. The key factor to keep in mind this has nothing to do with salvation, but rather with resurrection and rewards of the world to come.

  4. Thank you ! Yes, the command to love even “strangers” and “outsiders” is of particular relevance in today’s world. Jeshua actually did not answer the lawyer’s question “Who is MY neighbour ?” He turned the question on its head by asking, after telling the parable, which of the three is a neighbour TO the victim ? The correct answer therefore is not “everybody is my neighbour” but that I must reach out and be a neighbour to all in need, even strangers and outsiders. Denis Chang

  5. I have always believed neighbour meant your own people, tribe and nation ..since it was said to the isrealites and I believe Isreal was a close knit community, so basically one Isrealite’s neighbour would most likely be another Isrealite.

    In the real world with all the hatred and jealousy among races this is probably the hardest for alot of people…and most wont ever admit it. The world is going downhill fast.

    Thank you for the interesting post

  6. Why did Isaiah 7:14 states that Jesus shall be called Immanuel but it never happened in the Bible? He was also said to be Jehovah Tsidkenu, the LORD our righteousness but I can’t see anything like that.

  7. BEING IN THE USA AND IN TEXAS WITH ALL THE BORDER ISSUES – ARE THE PEOPLE IN THE CARAVAN OUR “NEIGHBORS”. HOW ARE WE TO LOVE THEM WHEN THEY WANT TO CAUSE US HARM?

    • Dear Karen, I understand the tension, perfectly. The word “love” is misconstrued for most people and produces all sorts of nonsensical interpretations. We are not talking about “warm fuzzy feelings” here. Israel has Palestinian Arabs and we “love” them. Though many wish us evil we provide them with electricity and clean water, we allow those turn from violence to work in Israel and earn a living. We provide them expensive medical care in our hospitals for free. Some can become citizens, vote and even get elected to a public office. That is what Torah teaches. But we do not allow them to harm us or destroy us! We do not allow them to smuggle weapons and explosives into their cities so then can use them to attack us. Some people think that not letting them have rockets means “not loving them”. What can I say? I do understand your feelings, Karen.

  8. Did Jesus extend and complete the definition of “neighbor” to our “enemies” in Matthew 5:44?
    “But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you”

  9. Thank you Professor Pinchas. This is a message this is a much needed massage in todays troubled world. Fears, threats and wars, violence and corruption dominate especially the political world. How timely to think on The Good Samaritan and all that is entailed therein. As we look at this wonderful parable we see so many facets. Thank you.

  10. Thank you so much .I learned a lot about some secret things in the Bible.Pray for me as a pastor in the church,God will help me look after snd take care of the sheep in my community

  11. Professor Shir, It is my understanding that there are three (3) words for sojourner in Hebrew language;
    ach – traveler who is a countryman and fellow citizen
    ger- foreigner who is an invited guest or immigrant
    Nokri/zar – uninvited guest, trespasser or illegal immigrant
    The command to treat sojourner as our neighbor uses the word “ger” which means invited guest. There is no command to treat uninvited guests the same. Please comment, especially concerning the meaning of the three words for sojourner. Thanks and blessings!

  12. I am a new learner, so please excuse my ignorance. I have been battling this exact question for some time now and am either misreading the comments or do not understand. I need to fully understand who my neighbour is and also who my brother is. Unfortunately I can also not leave politics out of the equasion because in South Africa people are murdered left right and centre for political motives. How can I love them or even forgive them if, 1 they are not believers, and 2. they are vehicles of evil.

    • Dear Susan, I understand. Thanks for giving me some background. I will try to help you sort this out a little. Technically-speaking, brother is your kin, relative or someone who is not related by blood but was integrated into your larger family. This is a relational description. An enemy is someone who is actively seeking to harm you. Which can even be your actual brother in some extreme cases. An enemy is a functional description. God wants us to forgive our brothers because we can not have harmony within our own family/community otherwise. This is a must. But there is nothing in Yeshua’s teaching about “forgiving our enemies”. Both Jesus and Paul instruct is to “love” them in a sense of “treating them righteously” (Rom 12:20). We should seek reconciliation and peace (if not being attacked) by being better to them then they deserve. Mercy is God’s amazing attribute, which he extends to those who do not deserve it. A neighbor in the context of Yeshua’s story presumes a person who lives nearby and is in trouble. There is no obligation to forgive them. because they are not family, but “loving” them, treating them with kindness is proper.

  13. Hi there, we have a clear answer in Luke 10:37. The ‘neighbour’ is he who shows you ‘mercy’. This does however beg the duality question. Does that mean to ‘hate’ those who do not show ‘mercy’? Here I believe that is definitely not what G-d ever intended. After all, we are all of His creation!

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