Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Rabbi Mordechai Willig

The Path of Hashem

Yisro instructed Moshe: "v'hodata lahem es haderech yelchu ba v'es ha'ma'aseh asher ya'asun - You should inform the people the path they should walk on and the actions that they should perform" (Shemos 18:20). This refers to acts of kindness and going beyond the letter of the law (Bava Metzia 30b).

Earlier (18:16), Moshe told Yisro that he informed the people of Hashem's statutes and laws, i.e. the ritual laws. Yisro added that they should also be taught the interpersonal dimension of Torah (Chafetz Chaim, Shem Olam Chapter 21).

Only by learning Torah can one acquire good character traits. "Lmaan asher yetzave es bonov v'es beiso acharav v'shamru derech Hashem la'asos tzedaka u'mishpat - because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of Hashem, doing charity and justice." The path of Hashem was charted by Avraham Avinu, who commanded his descendents to guard and fulfill it (Breishis 18:19). Torah illuminates our path (Tehilim 119:105) and without it, we can stray from the straight path (Yalkut Lekach Tov).

Yisro advised Moshe to establish a system of judges (18:21). They are to judge minor matters themselves, and bring major matters (davar ha'Gadol) to Moshe (18:22). Moshe adds that difficult matters (davar ha'Kashe) should be brought to him as well (18:26, see Chidushei Maran Riz Halevi al haTorah).

Appropriate interpersonal behavior and the establishment of moral rectitude must be based on Torah law. When a question regarding Torah law involves great import or complexity, it must be decided by preeminent Torah scholars.

The Chazon Ish (Emuna Ubitachon Chapter 3) emphasizes that halacha determines what is ethical behavior. For example, righteous indignation, derogatory speech and even divisive and vengeful action are appropriate when upholding the law which precludes proximate competition in business (hasogas gevul). When the halacha permits competition, as in the case of Torah teachers (Bava Basra 21b), anyone who attempts to stop them is guilty of sinful speech and behavior. The same action, i.e. defending the incumbent, is morally laudable in the first case, but morally reprehensible in the second.

Moreover, those who study ethics, but are not experts in halacha, are more prone than others to err in this regard. Their sense of morality, which is not based on a deep understanding of halacha, may lead them to criticize a correct halachic stand which they erroneously view as morally repugnant. By contrast, one who devotes himself with great toil and focus to the halacha, even if not fully knowledgeable, acquires a sense of submission to the halachic system, and as such will consult an expert before taking action, particularly in interpersonal matters.

The path of Hashem was charted by Avraham Avinu and taught by Moshe Rabbeinu. In the last century, great Torah giants, the Chafetz Chaim and the Chazon Ish, continued to guide us along this path. May we be privileged to continue along this path and to inspire future generations to follow it as well.

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