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Introduction

Introduction

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Seven attributes minister before the Throne of Glory, to wit: wisdom, righteousness, justice, loving-kindness and compassion, truth, and peace, as it is said: I will betroth you unto Me forever; and I will betroth you unto Me with righteousness, with justice, with loving-kindness, and with mercy. I will betroth you unto Me with faithfulness; and you shall know G‑d" (Hosea 2:21-22).

R. Meir says: Why does the verse say "And you shall know G‑d"? To teach that whosoever has in himself all these attributes knows the will of G‑d.

Avot deR. Nathan, ch. 37

Our sages distinguish between two types of mitzvot: a) the mitzvot that are part of the service and worship of G‑d, thus related to the man-G‑d relationship; and b) the mitzvot affecting our fellow-humans, thus related to human relationships and concourse1.

This distinction is of Halachic significance2. Nonetheless, the dichotomy is more apparent than real. Strictly speaking, we can not differentiate purely religious or ritualistic precepts from purely social or ethical mitzvot. In Judaism, social obligations and duties, ethics and morality, are an integral part of the religious and ritualistic. The one is inseparable from the other. The Torah is a Torat chayim, a code dealing with the totality of life. The instructions of the Torah apply not to one aspect or circumstance of man only, but encompass man as a whole.

Man's physical existence is not a distinct entity to be separated from his spiritual life. The Torah is concerned with–thus guides and instructs–man's conduct in the most common actions of everyday life. The totality of man is to become hallowed and sanctified. Every act is to be part of the service of G‑d. The mitzvot, therefore, are found to deal with matters of worship and ritual alongside precepts of social justice and ethics. Moreover, quite often these are juxtaposed in one and the same verse. The intrinsic unity between the religious and ethical is best seen in the Rabbinic comment on just such a verse:

"If a person will sin and commit a treachery against G‑d by lying to his fellow...' (Leviticus 5:21): no one deals falsely with his fellow unless he repudiates the cardinal principle [of the existence of G‑d] 3."

The same Torah that enjoins rites and rituals gives sanction to the so-called ethical precepts. Mundane, personal and social activities at their best should be no less religious practices than, for example, prayer and dietary laws, and, in their Torah-way, add to the sublimation of man.

In this context we shall now discuss the mitzvah of Gemilut Chassadim, the Performance of Loving-Kindness, which encompasses the whole sphere of human concourse.

May this booklet inspire us to follow and realize the duties and ideals mentioned therein.

Jacob Immanuel Schochet

24 Adar, 5727

Footnotes
1.
Yoma 85b. See Kidushin 40a.
2.
See Yoma, there.
3.
Tossefta, Shevuot 3:5. See there also the sequel (and the commentary Minchat Bikurim), emphasizing that the "ethical" precepts of the "Ten Commandments" follow upon the basic "religious" principles of the first commandments. The implication is that the "ethical norms" are logically posterior to, and dependent on, the "religious fundamentals."

To be sure, Judaism recognizes that there are basic "moral principles" or ethical "laws of nature" which are essential to any social life. These are usually referred to as "rational laws" (as opposed to the supra-rational religious laws or precepts), because reason itself dictates that man adopt and institute them if for nothing else but the aim of self-preservation. See Eruvin 100b; Yoma 67b; Sifra on Leviticus 18:4; and cf R. Saadiah Gaon, Emunot veDe'ot III:Iff.

Nonetheless, these "rational laws," derived from self-evident reason alone, are no more than prudent measures adopted for pragmatic and utilitarian ends. Moral value judgments of absolute good or evil, right or wrong, do not apply to them. The postulate for such value-judgments is an absolute criterion. The stamp of absoluteness can derive only from the Absolute (that is, from G‑d), by means of revelation (that is, the Torah). See Mishnat R. Eliezer, ch. 6; Maimonides, Hilchot Melachim 8:11 (cf. the variant reading in Responsa R. Moshe Alashkar, no. 117); see also below, chapters “Torah and Gemilut Chassadim and “Imatatio De-I”.

Published by Kehot Publication Society, Brooklyn, NY, 1967
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