Rabbi Yakov Haber
Rabbi Yakov Haber

Divine Service: The General and the Specific

"Higid l'cha adam mah tov, umah Hashem Elokecha Doreish mim'cha, ki im asos mishpat v'ahavas chessed v'hatznei'a leches im Elokecha - [G-d] has told you, man, what is good and what Hashem, your G-d, requests of you: only to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly [or, to walk in private] with your G‑d" (Micha 6:8).

This closing passage of this week's haftarah is reminiscent of the famous passage in Parshas Eikev: "And now, Yisrael, what does Hashem ask of you? Only to fear Hashem, your G-d, to walk in all of His ways, to love Him, and to serve Hashem, your G-d, with all of your heart and soul; to keep the commandments of G-d and his statutes which I command you to do for your own benefit" (Devarim 10:12-13).

Interestingly, the list of Divine requests is longer in Parshas Eikev than in Micha. Also, the Torah addresses "Yisrael"; Micah addresses "Adam." How can these differences be explained? Furthermore, Micha does not seem to address the performance of the bulk of mitzvos whereas Moshe's list does. How can this list be all that Hashem asks of us?

Radak, addressing the first question, explains that v'hatznei'a leches refers to affirming G-d's unity and loving Him with all our heart and soul. It is referred to as walking privately, since these matters are in the heart. Thus, the list in Micha includes much of the list in Eikev. His comments, however, do not address the other differences.

Metzudas Dovid, addressing the third question, explains that v'hatznei'a leches refers to doing all the mitzvos privately for the sake of Hashem alone, not publicly in order to boast over their performance. Whereas this shows how all the mitzvos are alluded to, the use of Adam still remains difficult.

Malbim, addressing all of the above questions, states that the first two introductory parts of Micha's statement, one addressing "Adam" and one addressing "mim'cha - you," parallel the three items in the list of Hashem's requests. The first two components of Micha's list, doing justice and loving kindness refer to interpersonal mitzvos, bein adam lachaveiro. Therefore, the word Adam is used indicating their universal and interpersonal nature. The third component, v'hatznei'a leches, is parallel to, "mim'cha - of you", a specific reference to B'nei Yisrael. V'hatznei'a leches refers to the full range of avodas Hashem, bein adam laMakom. This is called walking with G-d, as the Torah states concerning Noach (Noach 6:9) [and Avraham (Chayei Sarah 24:40)]. These must be performed in a submissive state without misusing one's intellect to negate Divine truths or Divine commandments.

The common denominator between all of these interpretations is that Hashem found it necessary to encapsulate all of avodas Hashem in a few phrases both in Eikev and the even more shortened list of Micha. Indeed the Gemara (Makkos 23b-24a) quotes R' Simlai that Hashem gave B'nei Yisrael 613 mitzvos through Moshe. Dovid established them as eleven. Yeshaya shortened them into six, Micha into three (our haftara). Yeshaya further collapsed them into two. Chabakuk (2:4) succinctly stated the entire Torah in one principle, "v'tzadik be'emunaso yichye - the righteous one will live by his faith." Maharsha and others explain that clearly these leaders of our nation were not lessening the Divine commandments. The Torah itself warns us against adding or subtracting from the mitzvos. Rather, they were stating the main principles behind the Torah.[1] Each generation, as a result of its lower status, required a shorter list of main principles so that they could more greatly appreciate the "bigger picture" of Torah. [See the Maharsha for his further elaboration of all the parts of the Gemara.]

In an eye-opening article,[2] Rav Michoel Rosensweig shlit"a, based on the Midrash Tanchuma (No'ach 3), elaborated on the centrality of the broad principles of Torah, as represented by Torah SheBichsav versus their details as represented by Torah SheB'al Peh. An under emphasis of one of these components greatly skews the messages of Torah. Over-focusing on the broad themes can lead to not performing certain mitzvos altogether (sometimes referred to as "cardiac Judaism", a Jew at heart) or laxity in dikduk b'mitzvos, the minute details of mitzvos, thinking that, in the broader picture, they are not so crucial. Overemphasizing the details of mitzvos can lead to forgetting the main thrusts of avodas Hashem and the fact that the mitzvos are not just guides to a rigorous, structured life but a life of Divine service.

Shabbos is a classic example. It is clearly incorrect to posit that keeping Shabbos consists solely of making Kiddush and not doing m'lacha. Shabbos is a meeting time with the One and Only, of HaKadosh Baruch Hu with His beloved Bride. As such, the heightened themes of prayer, Torah study, song and oneg are crucial parts of the Shabbos experience highlighting its unique sanctity.[3] But it is also incorrect to state that as long as one "feels Shabbos", he can take the forbidden m'lachos lightly. The Torah underscores this point by prescribing a kareis penalty for their violation.

Highlighting the centrality of the details of mitzvos, Rav Menachem Mendel Shneerson zt"l, used the historical analogy of rocket ships which once exploded because of some missing screw or a missing line of computer code. One must realize that each detail of a commandment is crucial. But, on the other hand, without a broad vision of attempting to land on the moon or orbit the earth, the rocket ship would never have been assembled.

As Mesilas Yesharim (introduction) who quotes the passage in Eikev as a broad presentation of avodas Hashem notes: one of the components is performance of all the mitzvos with all of their details. But there are four other crucial components of avodas Hashem: love and fear of G-d, walking in His ways (middos development), and to serve him wholeheartedly. Interestingly, Chayei Adam (Klal 68) devotes a whole section of his classic halacha work to general principles of mitzvah performance, many of which are fulfillments of these other components of avodas Hashem.[4]

Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev once gathered an "emergency meeting" in his town, demanding that all the shops be closed and that all men, women and children gather in the shul. Frightened, the townspeople expected the worst. Rav Levi Yitzchak thunderously announced from the bima: "Yidden, remember there is a Ribono Shel ‘Olam! Now you can return to your regular schedules!" Sometimes we need to be reminded of the broad principles!

Bilams blessings highlight both of these aspects of Divine service. On the one hand, "How good are your tents" (24:5) representing the general quality of modesty and privacy. He refers to the righteous among them as "yesharim", "upright ones" (23:10) indicating a complete, spiritual personality. On the other hand "who can count the dirt of Yaakov", (ibid.) representing the myriad specific mitzvos that B'nei Yisrael perform just with the dirt (see Rashi).

The complete eved Hashem strives to incorporate all of these aspects of Divine service into his life: both an awareness and application of the broad principles of Torah while not forgetting about the centrality of each detail of mitzvos. May we be merit to follow the example of our great tzadikkim.


[1] Our translation and explanation of the Gemara follows the approach of Maharsha. For other interpretations, see Rivan (the substitute commentary for Rashi on the latter part of Makkos), Ikkarim (3:30), D'rashos HaRan (6), Maharal (Chidushei Aggados and Tiferes Yisrael (54-55)) and Ein Ya'akov. See the enlightening summary in the Oz V'Hadar Mesivta edition of Maseches Makkos, Yalkut haBei'urim.

[2] Published as a supplement to Enayim L'Torah, Yeshiva University's weekly D'var Torah sheet, years ago in honor of Shavuos.

[3] See the enriching expositions of these aspects of Shabbos in Shiurim l'Zeicher Abba Mori by Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Day of Eternity by Rav A. Kaplan, Shabbos Malk'sa by Rav S. Pincus, and Nesivos Shalom (beginning of vol. 2) by Rav Sholom Noach Berezovsky.

[4] Also see the beautiful Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh series of sefarim, dedicated to broad themes of avodas Hashem and methods by which to incorporate them into our lives.

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