Parshas Ki Savo
contains the command:
"And you shall walk in His ways." The Rambam
counts this as one of the 613 mitzvos,
and explains that it charges us "to resemble Him according to our capacity," and to follow His ways, as our Sages state:
Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, is gracious, so too you should be gracious. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, is called merciful, so too you should be merciful. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, is pious, so too you should be pious.
When outlining the general principles that govern his reckoning of the 613 mitzvos,
that he does not include charges of a general nature, such as "you shall keep My statutes"
or "be holy,"
because they do not involve a specific activity, but instead refer to general patterns of conduct. Seemingly, the mitzvah
of emulating G-d's ways also seems to be general in nature. Although it contains several particulars -- to be gracious, merciful and pious -- these particulars are seemingly included in the mitzvah
to perform deeds of kindness.
Were one to interpret the charge to emulate His ways as a more general command, it would encompass all the mitzvos,
for they are all G-d's ways, and He observes them all.
Thus the mitzvah
to emulate G-d's ways does not appear to be a particular command. Why then does the Rambam
include it in his reckoning of the mitzvos?
We are forced to conclude that there is a particular dimension to this mitzvah which does not exist in other mitzvos, and that this causes the Rambam to include it as one of the 613. For example, the commandment: "And you shall serve G-d," is general in nature, for every commandment involves a deed of service. Nevertheless, this charge is interpreted as referring specifically to prayer, and therefore is included as one of the 613 mitzvos.
The unique dimension of the mitzvah
to "walk in G-d's ways" is contained in the word "walk," which indicates progression. A person may observe the Torah and its mitzvos
without making any progress. He is merely standing in one place; his spiritual status is no different than it was before he observed the mitzvos.
This mitzvah teaches that a person should observe the mitzvos in a manner that moves him forward. The spur for this spiritual progress is the fact that the mitzvos are "G-d's ways," and so by "walking in them," one emulates Him. This invests the mitzvos with the potential to lift a person to a higher level of Divine service.
Mitzvos always elevate and refine the person who observes them, even when he does not observe them in a manner that leads to spiritual progress. Indeed, even when a person observes mitzvos without the proper intent, his spiritual state changes. But these changes are not openly revealed. When a person observes the mitzvah of "walking in G-d's ways," his Divine service brings overt spiritual progress.
It is written:
"I will make you one who goes among those who stand." Chassidus
explains that the phrase "those who stand" refers to the angels, and also to souls before their descent into this material world. It is our observance of the Torah and its mitzvos
on the material plane which distinguishes us from them and gives us the ability to progress.
Chassidus further explains that both angels and souls are also constantly ascending from level to level. They are, nevertheless, considered to be "standing," because their progress is gradual; all the levels are related to each other. No matter how high they reach, they have still not gone entirely beyond their original level.
The potential for progress which souls are granted through their descent to this physical plane, by contrast, is unlimited. This concept also applies to the command to "walk in G-d's ways." Our observance of the mitzvos must enable not only measured spiritual progress, but an infinite advance.
Two questions arise:
- Every created being is by nature limited. How can a person's limited Divine service bring about unlimited progress?
- Once a person taps an unlimited level, how can he return to his limited Divine service? Seemingly, this should take him above the mortal plane entirely.
The definition of this commandment as "walking in G-d's ways" resolves both these questions, for G-d represents ultimate transcendence; absolutely nothing is beyond His power,
and He fuses together opposites, joining limitation and infinity. Therefore a mortal can tap an unlimited potential for progress, yet that unlimited progress will not prevent him from continuing his mortal existence.
G-d desires that all of a person's spiritual peaks come as a result of his own efforts. Giving a person influence from above that is not dependent on his own work is not a complete expression of good. On the contrary, a person will regard it as "bread of shame."
It thus follows that the peaks which a person can reach by "walking in G-d's ways" must also be attainable through our Divine service. Yet the explanation given above -- that our limited Divine service can enable us to reach unlimited peaks -- appears to depend on G-d's beneficence.
Our spiritual progress does not follow a two-stage pattern. It is not that a person proceeds to the limit of his mortal powers and then G-d lifts him to unlimited plateaus. Instead, the intent is that because G-d can fuse opposites, He makes it possible for the limited Divine service of a mortal to reach unlimited heights. Nevertheless, since the unlimited progress which man thus attains does not come about as a result of his own labor, this appears to run contrary to G-d's intent that all of man's spiritual achievements be attained through his own effort. This forces us to redefine the concepts stated above so that it is clear that the infinite progress achieved by man comes as a result of his own initiative.
To explain: The mitzvos
become G-d's ways, invested with His unlimited power, when their observance is motivated by the essence of the soul, which is "an actual part of G-d."
A Jew's Divine service draws the essence of his soul into a particular mitzvah.
This is the intent of the words of the Midrash
: "so too, you should be gracious... so too, you should be merciful... so too, you should be pious." "You" refers to the essence of the soul, expressed in the simple faith and self-sacrifice which transcend intellectual understanding.
When a person's Divine service is motivated by these qualities, it causes G-d's essence to be drawn down and be manifested as graciousness, mercy, and piety. Thus it is man's efforts that bring about the potential for unlimited progress.
As mentioned above with regard to our walking in G-d's ways, there are two expressions of His unbounded potential:
- The limited service of a mortal will elevate him to unlimited peaks;
- Despite being elevated to these peaks, man will retain his mortal frame of reference.
As mentioned above, all of a Jew's attainments must come about because of his Divine service. It is also man's efforts that enable him to remain within his limited framework of reference despite being elevated to these peaks.
In truth, the life-energy of a Jew stems from his G-dly soul; it is just that this energy passes through the animal soul in order to give life to the body.
Although the body is a limited physical entity stemming from kelipas nogah, while the soul is "an actual part of G-d," the two should ultimately work in harmony. Not only will the body not be negated by the soul, the soul should endow it with life.
Nevertheless, this G-dly life-energy is hidden, and it is the responsibility of each person to realize and reveal this potential through his Divine service. He should come to the awareness that every one of his limb derives its life-energy from the G-dly soul.
This will lead to a heightened spiritual consciousness. We see that the body responds immediately to the will of the soul; as soon as a person decides to do something, his body performs that activity. Similarly, when a Jew removes the veils that conceal his soul and appreciates the true source of his life-energy, he will spontaneously respond to the soul's desires. To refer to a passage from the Jerusalem Talmud: "When one reaches the prayer modim, one bows as a reflex action."
When a Jew, through his Divine service, reveals the connection between body and soul, and realizes that his physical body derives its life-energy from the G-dly soul, he draws down G-d's essence. He ascends to the highest peaks, and experiences these spiritual heights while living in a material body.
Not everyone is able to give himself over to G-d in such a complete fashion as to cause all the limbs of his body to spontaneously respond to the desires of the G-dly soul. For this reason, the command to "walk in G-d's ways" is prefaced (-- and the sequence is important --) by the command:
"And you shall cling to Him," interpreted
to mean "cling to the sages and their students." The Hebrew term for "sages," chachamim,
indicates self-transcendence, for chochmah,
can be divided into the words koach mah
, the potential for bittul.
This makes a person a chariot for G-dliness, an instrument of G-d's will with no independent desires.
When a person clings to the sages, they serve as his head, as it were. By clinging to them it is considered as if he clings to the Divine Presence itself,26 and his body becomes a medium for the light of the soul, as explained above.
The commandment to cling to G-d is of a general nature, implying that one should attach oneself to Him by clinging to the sages and their students. This gives one the ability to follow G-d's infinite ways. Nevertheless, "walking in G-d's ways" means observing the mitzvos, for the mitzvos draw down G-d's essence.
By observing the mitzvos because they are G-d's ways, and underscoring that this is the manner in which we can resemble Him, the essential G-dliness vested in the mitzvos is revealed. "Clinging to G-d" leads to "walking in His ways," making this an ongoing process, for "the righteous have no rest... as it is written: 'And they shall go from strength to strength,'" until they reach the ultimate peak -- "the day which is all Shabbos and rest for life everlasting."
(Adapted from Sichos Yud Shvat. 5721)
- (Back to text) Devarim 28:9.
- (Back to text) Sefer HaMitzvos, positive mitzvah 8; Mishneh Torah, Hilchos De'os 1:5, based on Sotah 14a; quoted by the Shulchan Aruch HaRav 154:3.
- (Back to text) Sifri, Eikev 11:22, quoted with slightly different wording by the Rambam, loc. cit.:6, Shulchan Aruch HaRav, loc. cit. See also Mechilta, Beshallach 15:2; Shabbos 133b.
- (Back to text) Sefer HaMitzvos, Shoresh 4.
- (Back to text) Vayikra 19:19.
- (Back to text) Ibid., 19:2.
- (Back to text) See Sefer HaMitzvos, Shoresh 2.
- (Back to text) See Shmos Rabbah 30:9. This is also implied by the verse (Bereishis 18:19): "And you shall keep to the path of G-d."
- (Back to text) See Sefer HaMitzvos, Shoresh 4, which states that these general charges are not reckoned as mitzvos; with them, "He did not command us anything that we did not know before."
- (Back to text) Shmos 23:25.
- (Back to text) Sefer HaMitzvos, positive mitzvah 5; Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Tefillah 1:1.
- (Back to text) Zechariah 3:7.
- (Back to text) Torah Or, Vayeishev 30a; Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar, p. 38d.
- (Back to text) Likkutei Torah, ibid. See also the maamarim entitled Tzi'ena U'Reena, 5660, and Shuvah, 5666.
- (Back to text) See the Responsa of the Rashba, Vol. I, Responsum 418; Derech Emunah of the Tzemach Tzedek, p. 68.
- (Back to text) See Tanna d'Bei Eliyahu Rabbah, ch. 20; Likkutei Torah, Vayikra 7d. See also the sichah to Parshas Behar in this series.
- (Back to text) The fact that an arousal from below (the Divine service of the Jewish people) evokes an arousal from above (Divine beneficence) is dependent on His initiative, and is not predicated on the positive qualities of the Jews' service, for there is no comparison between a created being and its Creator. (See Likkutei Torah, Devarim, p. 83b; Shir HaShirim, p. 12a; note the extensive explanation in the maamar entitled Adon Olam, 5703, sec. 6.) This motif also applies to the heights attained by the soul in the spiritual realms as a reward for its Divine service. [The fact that G-d rewards man according to his deeds is a kindness from Him.]
Nevertheless, once G-d decided that the Divine service of created beings would be considered significant, this desire created a framework in which this is in fact true. (To cite a parallel: In Derech Mitzvosecha 54b, it is explained that because G-d desired the tzimtzum, the tzimtzum became a significant factor, and it is appropriate that the ray of Divine light which exists after the tzimtzum be affected by the Divine service of the Jewish people. Although this ray of light is attached to G-d, the One who brings about the tzitzum and who is above all connection to created beings, because of the tzimtzum, this ray of light is affected by the Divine service of the Jews.)
Therefore the Divine influence depends on the service of the Jewish people. For this reason, the Jews' Divine service must be of the same nature as the desired influence from above, Derech Mitzvosecha p. 123a, 160a.
It may appear that this does not apply to the Jews' potential for unlimited ascent, for anything that is unlimited relates to the light that existed before the tzimtzum. One would not expect this light to respond to created beings as significant entities. (G-d's will causes the tzimtzum to be considered a significant factor, and therefore the ray of Divine light that exists after the tzimtzum will be affected by the Divine service of the Jewish people, as explained using the analogy of a son and his father. This motif, however, does not appear to apply with regard to His unlimited light.)
It was, nevertheless, His desire that the Divine service of the Jewish people should draw down the light that existed before the tzimtzum. This light is, however, dependent on His initiative and not predicated on the service of the Jews. He thus desired that their Divine service draw down a light above all connection to their efforts.
- (Back to text) Iyov 31:2, as cited by Tanya, ch. 2, which adds the word mamash ("actual"). See the introduction to Shefa Tal.
- (Back to text) Effort is necessary. Through the Jews' Divine service, they draw down the essence of their souls into the particular qualities mentioned. This in turn causes G-d to emanate influence from His essence to His particular qualities. This is possible, however, only after He decided to contract Himself.
It is, however, His will that the desire for tzimtzum itself come about through the Divine service of the Jewish people; it is as if they are the ones who bring about this desire.
Derech Mitzvosecha, p. 123b, 160b explains that G-d's infinite light is drawn down by "lov[ing] G-d with all your might" (Devarim 6:5). Meodecha (the Hebrew for "your might") is interpreted as referring to the unlimited G-dly potential that each Jew possesses.
This sequence is possible because the created beings relate to levels before the tzimtzum, as explained above. This point of connection is not, however, sufficient in and of itself to draw down this light; Divine service is necessary. Moreover, just as with the levels after tzimtzum, our Divine service must resemble the light it seeks to draw down; to draw down G-d's infinite light, it is necessary to tap our own infinite potential.
- (Back to text) For this reason, all the elements of a person's life are significant, because through his activities, he introduces G-dly energy into each and every act (the maamar entitled BeShaah SheHikdimu, 5672).
- (Back to text) See Tanya, ch. 23.
- (Back to text) Berachos 2:6. See also Chanoch LeNaar, p. 8, Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. I, p. 284 (English trans. Vol. I, p. 315). This applies not only to the body, but to one's portion in the world. See the narrative stated in Sefer HaSichos Kayitz 5700, p. 104, concerning Rabbi Hillel of Paritch.
- (Back to text) Devarim 10:20, cited by the Rambam as positive mitzvah 7 in his Sefer HaMitzvos.
- (Back to text) Sifri (cited by the Rambam, loc. cit., and Shulchan Aruch HaRav 154:4).
- (Back to text) Tanya, ch. 18, ch. 35, in the note.
- (Back to text) Tanya, ch. 2; see the sichah to Parshas Korach in this series.
- (Back to text) Based on the above, we can appreciate the continuation of the Sifri text:
I consider it is as if you ascended on high and took the Torah. Not that you would ascend and take it peacefully, but even if you waged war and took it, as it is written (Tehillim 68:19): "You ascended on high; you took captives; you took presents to give to man."
The passage is problematic. Why does it use the term "on high," rather than "heaven," "the firmament," or the like? And what is meant by using the analogies of war and captivity?
To explain: The union of finite and infinite is a byproduct of G-d's essence, the source for any fusion of opposites. This level is alluded to by the term "on high." It does not refer to a specific level, as do the terms "heaven" or "the firmament," but alludes to a level beyond which there is no other.
Conversely, we find the expression (Tanya, ch. 36): "a dwelling in the lower worlds," referring to a realm so low that none is lower.
The essence of G-d which fuses together opposites was revealed in the Beis HaMikdash, where the dimensions of the Holy Ark were not included in the measurements of the Holy of Holies. Thus the phrase "on high," is also employed with regard to the Beis HaMikdash, as Yirmeyahu 17:12 states: "On high, above the first, is the place of our Sanctuary." See the Reshimos of the Tzemach Tzedek to Eichah 1:13 [Or HaTorah, Nach, Vol. II, p. 1067ff.].
The level that is "on high," G-d's essence, is drawn down by the essence of the soul, which is expressed through the bittul of Modeh Ani, as reflected in the verse (Yeshayahu 57:15): "I dwell on high, in holiness, yet [also] with [a person of] contrite and humble spirit."
This, however, reflects merely the ascent to these peaks, an arousal of the essence. For the essence to be drawn down into the Divine service of every individual, "war" is necessary. The veils and concealments must be torn away, allowing one to refine the body, the animal soul, and one's portion of the world. This enables one to "take" the Divine sparks that have fallen and raise them to their source; "to take captives."
Although the arousal of the essence of the soul and its particular powers is reflected in the Divine service of "walking in His ways," it is also reflected in the command to cling to G-d, because the ultimate clinging to Him is "walking in His ways" as will be explained.
- (Back to text) Tehillim 84:8.
- (Back to text) The conclusion of tractate Berachos. See also Sheloh; the Introduction to Beis Chochmah 17a; Emek HaMelech, Shaar Diknah Kadishah, ch. 8 (p. 61c); Torah Or, Megillas Esther, p. 98b. See Torah Or, Shmos 49a.
- (Back to text) The conclusion of tractate Tamid.