Rabbi David Etengoff
Dedicated to the sacred memories of my mother, Miriam Tovah bat Aharon Hakohen, father-in-law, Levi ben Yitzhak, sister-in-law, Ruchama Rivka Sondra bat Yechiel, sister, Shulamit bat Menachem, Chana bat Shmuel, Yehonatan Binyamin ben Mordechai Meir Halevi, Shoshana Elka bat Avraham, Tikvah bat Rivka Perel, Peretz ben Chaim, the Kedoshim of Har Nof and Pittsburgh, and the refuah shlaimah of Mordechai HaLevi ben Miriam Tovah, Moshe ben Itta Golda and the safety of our brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world.
At the end of our parasha, we find a verse that contains some of the most important theological concepts of Judaism: “For if you keep all these commandments which I command you to do them, to love the L-rd, your G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave to Him.” (Sefer Devarim 11:22, this and all Tanach translations, The Judaica Press Complete Tanach) Herein we find the obligations to fulfill Hashem’s mitzvot, love Him, draw close to Him, and “walk in all His ways” — “lalechect bechol d’rachov.”
The commandment lalechect bechol d’rachov is found in various textual formulations no less than eight times throughout Sefer Devarim. This repetition is very significant, since it is an accepted principle of Torah exegesis that multiple instances of a phrase or a word demonstrate its singular import. If this is true regarding a word or a phrase, it is certainly the case regarding a mitzvah.
The Sifrei on Sefer Devarim helps define the parameters of this mitzvah. In so doing, it helps us understand the classic Jewish emphasis upon sensitivity to others, and our people’s desire to help the vulnerable among us:
It is surely the case that just as the Omnipresent One is called, “merciful” so, too, should you be merciful. [Just as] the Holy One blessed be He is called, “gracious” so, too, should you act graciously [toward others]. As the text states: “The L-rd is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and of great kindness.” (Sefer Tehillim 145:8) … The Omnipresent One is called “the Righteous One, as the text states: “For the L-rd is righteous; He loves [workers of] righteousness, whose faces approve of the straight [way]. (Ibid., 11:7), so, too, should you be righteous. The Omnipresent One is called, “the Kind One,” as the text states: “...I will not let My anger rest upon you, for I am kind, says the L-rd; I will not bear a grudge forever.” (Sefer Yirmiyahu 3:12, with my emendation) So, too, should you be kind [to others]. (Piska 49, translation and brackets my own)
Herein, the Sifrei presents a number of Hashem’s attributes of action that are found throughout the Tanach, and urges us to behave in exactly the same manner. This idea is classically known as imitatio Dei (the emulation of the Almighty), and receives its most celebrated presentation in the following Talmudic passage:
Just as Hashem clothed the naked [in the case of Adam and Chava] … so, too, should you clothe the naked. Just as Hashem visited the sick [in the case of Avraham after his brit milah] … so, too, should you visit the sick. Just as the Holy One Blessed be He comforted the mourners [in the case of Yitzhak after Avraham’s passing] … so, too, should you comfort the mourners. Just as the Holy One Blessed be He buried the dead [in the case of Moshe] … so, too, should you bury the dead. (Talmud Bavli, Sotah 14a, translation my own)
This statement is the basis for a famous halachic ruling of the Rambam (Maimonides, 1135-1204) that defines many of the essentials of Jewish communal life:
It is a positive commandment of Rabbinic origin to visit the sick, comfort mourners, to prepare for a funeral, prepare a bride, accompany guests, attend to all the needs of a burial, carry a corpse on one’s shoulders, walk before the bier, mourn, dig a grave, and bury the dead, and also to bring joy to a bride and groom and help them in all their needs. These are deeds of kindness that one carries out with his person that have no limit.” (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Avel 14:1, translation, Rabbi Eliyahu Touger)
Closer to our own time, my rebbe and mentor, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zatzal (1903-1993), known as “the Rav” by his students and followers, adds an entirely new dimension to our understanding of this commandment:
We have an obligation to imitate G-d, and by offering Him appropriate praise, we learn about and appreciate His attributes. The desire to be like Him, to fashion our deeds after a Divine design, is understandable if seen against the background of a relationship based on a passionate love. This emotion expresses itself in an overpowering longing for the complete identification of the lover with the beloved. (Out of the Whirlwind: Essays on Mourning, Suffering and the Human Condition, pages 197-198, underlining my own)
The Rav teaches us that we are not merely required to “fashion our deeds after a Divine design.” Far more profoundly, we yearn to do so, because of our overwhelming love of the Master of the Universe, Who is our Yedid Nefesh — the Beloved of our Soul.
With Hashem’s eternal kindness as our guide, may we ever strive to fulfill the mitzvah of lalechect bechol d’rachov, and thereby demonstrate our deep and enduring love for Him. V’chane yihi ratzon.
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*** My audio shiurim for Women on the topics of Tefilah and Tanach may be found at: http://tinyurl.com/8hsdpyd
*** I have posted 164 of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s English language audio shiurim (MP3 format) spanning the years 1958-1984. Please click on the highlighted link.
Talmid of Rabbi Soloveitchik zatzal