There is probably no more famous and perhaps important chapter in the Chumash than that of Leviticus 19. It includes such crucial mitzvot as the charge to be holy, the injunctions against cursing the deaf or putting a stumbling block before the blind. We have laws regarding the prompt payment of wages, the prohibitions against slander and gossip and taking revenge or bearing a grudge. It is here we find the (difficult) obligation to "love our neighbour as ourselves". In apparently one of the strangest juxtapositions in the Chumash , the mitzva of Ve'ahavta lereacha kamocha (loving one's neighbour) - which according to Rabbi Akiva is the most fundamental principle of the Torah - is followed by the prohibitions of Kilyaim and Shatnez which forbid the mixing of different seeds in the planting process and the wearing of garments of wool and linen. We go from perhaps the most famous verse in the entire Chumash to one of the least known and understood laws of our Torah - from the grandeur of human caring to technical minutia seemingly devoid of meaning. What message is the Torah trying to convey? Surely the prohibition of mixing species is anti - climatic. On a basic level the Torah is teaching us that each and every mitzva in the Torah emanates from G-d. Whether it is a mitzva which forms the basis of civilization or one which we do not comprehend, all were commanded by G-d at Sinai. We must not say that this mitzva is important and I will observe it but I will neglect this other mitzva which is less important.
While clearly some mitzvoth are more important than others - witness the varying degrees of punishment for violating laws ranging from a death sentence to no penalty at all - our attitude towards them must be the same. After all, G-d has commanded all of them. This is what the Sages mean when they teach us to "be as careful in a light mitzva as in a heavy mitzva". The commandment to love our neighbour serves as a constant reminder of how we must interact with our fellow human beings and though we may not fully comprehend the message of Shatnez , it too is the word of G-d.
However, I believe there is an additional message here. It seems that the Torah is addressing a necessary ingredient in the proper observance of loving our neighbour. As we are all too aware, we Jews while often performing tremendous acts of chesed on an individual basis seem incapable of getting along on a communal basis. Unfortunately, the infighting we witness all too often is not a new phenomenon.
It is quite natural to like people with whom we share similar backgrounds and worldviews. However we tend to be indifferent or even to dislike people who are different from us. Immigrants often experience aloofness and sometimes worse from the citizens of their host country.
As Jews, we are commanded to care for all people no matter how different they may be from us. The Torah does not need to tell us to like our friends as that is self apparent. Rather, the Torah tells us than when our society is one of Shatnez - one that consists of all kinds of different people - that is where loving our neighbour is most important.
After 2,000 years the Jewish people have returned to their rightful homeland. Jews have literally come from the four corners of the earth to settle the land. We have a mixture of languages, cultures, customs, outlooks and habits. The challenge that we face is to put the most fundamental principle of the Torah - to love our neighbour - into practice amongst such a disparate group of people. Wheat and vines, wool and linen are to be kept apart but all "species" of people are to work together in making this world a better place. When we learn to get along with all people then we can be sure that we will be able to meet the challenges that face us as a people.
Shabbat Shalom !