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15 Av 5760 - August 16, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Path Towards Higher Levels

by L. Jungerman

In his introduction to Ahavas Chessed, the Chofetz Chaim dwells on the apparent difficulty in understanding the verse from our parsha, "And you shall heed the commandments of Hashem your G-d, to walk in His ways and to fear Him." We find here that "walking in His ways" precedes fear of Hashem.

Later on in the parsha (10:12), it is written, "And what does Hashem your G-d ask of you if not to fear Hashem your G-d, to walk in all of His ways and to love Him." The Torah changes the order here and writes "walking in His ways" after "fearing Him" and before "loving Him."

At the end of the parsha (11:22) it is written, "For if you shall verily heed all of the command . . . to love Hashem your G-d, to walk in all of His ways and to cleave unto Him . . ." Here the Torah states "walking in His ways" after love and before adherence. All of these variations beg explanation.

The Chofetz Chaim attempts to do just that. His lofty words deserve to be our guiding light, a beacon showing the path to all those who seek Hashem. He says:

The Ramban explains that there are three levels in our worship of Hashem, namely: fear, beyond that -- love, and surpassing that -- adherence to Hashem. The second degree denotes love as an emotion that occasionally wells up inside a person's heart and overflows, whereas in deveikus, the third level, that love is firmly anchored in his heart, always, causing the person's soul to cleave fast unto Hashem.

The Torah teaches here that a person cannot attain any level of spirituality before training his soul from the first to walk in the path of the goodness of Hashem, that is, to emulate His attributes of lovingkindness and compassion and to perform the acts that express these traits.

This is why the Torah begins here with the first level of following in Hashem's ways and fearing Him. Something must precede the level of G-d-fear -- and that preparation is the good practice of "walking in His ways" (emulating them). The Torah then goes on to reveal that even after we have attained G-d-fear, let us not delude ourselves into thinking that in order to ascend further to the level of love for Hashem it is necessary to isolate oneself to contemplate matters of yirah, the fear of and exaltedness of Hashem, to study Torah, and refrain from social contact and ignore those in need of some form of assistance.

This is not so! The Torah goes on to say: "And to fear Hashem your G-d, and to walk in all of His ways and to love Him." It teaches that whoever has attained that level of yiras Shomayim and wishes to proceed to the next plane of ahavas Hashem, requires more than asceticism. It is not proper to renounce worldly things and immerse oneself in Torah and G-dly service. The second level can only be attained by embracing the practice of walking in His ways, that is, emulating the good characteristics of being kind and merciful; this is only reflected and carried out through good deeds towards one's fellow man.

At the end of the parsha, the Torah teaches us another lesson: A person may already have attained the first two levels of yirah and ahava, and wishes these to become permanent features of his makeup, yet he mistakenly assumes that the means to this is through severance from worldly vanities, which necessarily includes a lack of attention to the needs of those surrounding him for the sake of concentrating all of his attention upon the goal of adherence to Hashem. This is a misconception, says the Torah, "For if you verily heed . . . to love Hashem your G-d, to walk in all of his ways and to cleave unto him . . . " -- you must continue to put into practice those attributes of Hashem, which includes addressing yourself to your fellow man and not isolating yourself in order to attain higher degrees of adherence.

Adherence can only be translated through the very extrapolation of the divine good traits -- putting them into action. In the merit of one's positive interaction with his fellow man, and not his isolation from them, will Hashem grant a person the higher level of adherence.

The words of the Chofetz Chaim serve to grade the values of those good traits and the relationship towards one's fellow man on an entirely different scale. It is false to consider the two spheres of between-man-and-fellowman and between-man- and-G-d as separate and different. Similarly, one must be aware that one cannot advance in the second category without parallel progress in the first one. Furthermore, the way and means of ascending in the second category is precisely through those commandments and traits involving man and fellowmen. Every good deed performed for another is a simultaneous ascent, a rung closer to the ultimate goal of adherence to Hashem.

The Chofetz Chaim omitted to explain why this is so. Perhaps because in his holiness and at his level it was superfluous; he took it for granted since it seemed so obvious. But we may try to strengthen our own understanding and to absorb it into our consciousness through the very illuminating words of the Maharal, who explains that the term deveikus in Hashem means a striving to emulate Hashem's traits as best as humanly possible. Literal adherence is impossible. What is in our realm is a constant striving to imitate His good practices and characteristics as we see them reflected in this world: Hashem's compassion, mercy, kindness and goodness.

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