Tuesday, June 30, 2009

v'halachta b'derachav -- why only through gemilus chassadim?

Why is it that v'halachta b'derachav, imitating G-d, applies only to his acts of mercy? We are told (Sota 14) that G-d visits the sick, buries the dead, acts charitably, and we are expected to do the same. But no source suggests that just as G-d smites the wicked we should do the same -- a thought that undoubtedly occurred to many who were listening to the Madoff sentencing yesterday. Why not?

The Maharal (Nesiv Gemilus Chassadim) explains that when a person faces a situation that cries out for justice, s/he is forced by circumstance to respond. The same may be said for many types of charity. Giving a quarter to the homeless guy begging for change just to get him to stop annoying you or putting a coin in a pushka to avoid feeling guilty is also just a response to a situation, an means to avoid a negative feeling rather than a desire for constructive good. Situation and circumstance, not a person's inner character, is what motivates these behaviors.

G-d "has" everything; he does not suffer needs and is not compelled by circumstance -- and still he gives. We too can only claim to imitate G-d when we act not because of personal needs or circumstance, but simply because it is the right thing to do. In a word, imitating G-d demands altruism -- a selflessness that motivates one to do good for its own sake alone.


  1. Anonymous11:42 AM

    But no source suggests that just as G-d smites the wicked we should do the same

    What about because only hashem is capable of judging who is truly wicked and deserving of punishment?Also perhaps when a Beis Din rules on someone it is indeed being 'holech b'rochov'

  2. Anonymous11:56 AM

    According to shabbas 127a, torah learning is the spiritual equivelant to the following acts of "mercy" or inner good ness. honoring onès parents' acts of kindness, early attendance at bais medrash,Southern òr Midwest líke hospitality with the guests. (geographic insertion addèd for emphasis)visiting the sick, providing for a bride, escorting the dèad, prayer and suprisingly enough, creating peace and fixing disputes , i guess that would be mediaton.
    (i used to believe the m word should have been four letters but now i sòmetimes see the Value of mediation ùnder very special circumatánces)
    If torah study is equivelant (i guess spiritually)to all of the above then if óne learns the halachos for revenge and to fix the wagon that wronged you. This would clearly be classified as "v'halachta b'drachav" A halachically sanctioned Walk in the park or along the way of Gd.

    Since learnin torah technically defined as laws, clearly includes heartwarming methods
    for revenge.

    Revenge never sounded more Gd like.
    Dont forget that an eye for an eye is just a metaphor.

    If this "derech" is based on walking in the name of halacha then any concept that is sanctioned under halacha would be the way gd òr according to the will of gd.

    So torah equals laws which is equivalent to many altruistic acts. Lets nòt forget that bederech sheadam rotzéh
    Leleich , molichin .... And the obscúre reference to derech hatorah , though its nòt clear where that derech hatorah reference is sòúrced from.

    jaded topaz

  3. >>>only hashem is capable of judging who is truly wicked and deserving of punishment

    Do you think there is any doubt that Madoff or OJ are guilty? And when we imitate G-d, is it all-or-nothing, either do the job perfectly or don't do it at all?

    (See the Maharal who does add to his original point the distinction that mishpat can be tainted by error).

  4. Anonymous12:25 PM

    The Madoff case is so outrageously wierd that I don't believe we know anything about what is really going on. Why wouldn't that man have fled? Why did he continue taking money from almanos and yesomim when he knew he was circling the drain? No. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but something is wrong here.

  5. Creation is an act of giving, therefore imitating Him centers on giving.

    This is a central theme of REED's Qunterus haChessed.

    See also the opening of the introduction to Shaarei Yosher. From my translation, it begins:

    Blessed shall be the Creator, and exalted shall be the Maker, Who created us in His “Image” and in the likeness of His “Structure”, and planted eternal life within us, so that our greatest desire should be to do good to others, to individuals and to the masses, now and in the future, in imitation of the Creator (as it were). For everything He created and formed was according to His Will (may it be blessed), [that is] only to be good to the creations. So too His Will is that we walk in His ways. As it says “and you shall walk in His Ways” – that we, the select of what He made – should constantly hold as our purpose to sanctify our physical and spiritual powers for the good of the many, according to our abilities.

    In my opinion, this whole concept is included in Hashem’s mitzvah “Be holy, [for I am Holy].”...