A few nights ago our community had the privilege of hosting R’ Warren Goldstein, the Chief Rabbi of South Africa. One of the points he made when he spoke is that there are certain meta-values to halacha, which, if ignored, can render the entire observance of halacha worthless (I do not recall if he used that exact word). One can punctiliously keep the entire shulchan aruch cover to cover, yet still not be following the derech haTorah.
R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz brings proof to this point from Ya’akov Avinu. Despite assurances from Hashem that he would be protected from harm, Ya’akov was filled with dread at the prospect of meeting Eisav. Why was he so afraid? Chazal explain that Ya’akov was worried “shema yigrom ha’cheit.” Yet, one of the things Ya’akov tells his brother when they meet is, “Im Lavan garti,” which Chazal interpret as a hint that he faithfully kept all 613 mitzvos (garti = numerical value of tarya”g) in Lavan’s house. If Ya’akov indeed kept all the mitzvos, then why was he worried that Hashem would withdraw his promise of protection because he did something wrong? He kept kol haTorah kula! R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz answers that we see from here that one can in fact observe kol haTorah kula, yet still be on the wrong path and be found wanting.
The follow-up question of course is how you identify what these meta-values are, but that’s another discussion.
After the talk someone asked a very good question. Why is it that in our generation, when we have so many people learning Torah as never before, we seem to have lost sight of those meta-values, the overarching principles of halacha? Rabbi Goldstein suggested that we not lose sight of the fact that we are a dor of yesomim. Even if we do not have direct relatives who were killed in the Holocaust, we still all lost access to a large chunk of the collective mesorah of Torah in the deaths of so many talmidei chachamim and leaders. The living embodiment of Torah values that these people represented cannot simply be replaced by book knowledge.