A Question of Motive

In this week’s Torah portion we are told to walk in G‑d's path, to serve Him and to cleave to Him.

The Talmud offers the following interpretation: To walk in His ways means to be kind and merciful. To cleave to Him means to emulate G‑d's ways—to perform kind deeds such as burying the dead and visiting the ill.

Walking in His ways and cleaving to Him seems to express the same point; why are they listed separately? The difference between them is in the purpose of the exercise.

Those who walk in His ways behave in a G‑d-like manner in an effort to improve their character. Those who cleave to G‑d do so because G‑d the primary factor in their life. They too behave in a way that improves their own self; that is, however, not their primary motive.

In short, both emulate G‑d; the first emphasizes the improvement of self, the second emphasizes connection to G‑d.

Parenting Models

Let us use parenting as an example. Many grow up believing that they will parent differently from the way they were parented. Of course, when the time comes, they find themselves raising children precisely the way their parents raised them. Furthermore, it doesn’t even take an effort to repeat the so-called “mistakes” their parents made—they seem to come naturally!

On the other hand, there are those who observe expert educators in action and resolve to parent in similar fashion. Yet parenting like an expert is not an easy task. It requires great effort. Why is it so easy to repeat our parents “mistakes” but a struggle to teach ourselves new ways?

The answer to this question is similar to the distinction between "walking in his ways" and ”cleaving to him." In repeating our parents’ mistakes, we are simply reflecting the genes we inherited from them. We are like them and therefore act the way they do. This is analogous to those who cleave to G‑d and make Him the primary factor of their life: they naturally emulate G‑d.

Learning from an expert requires more then reflecting our inner character; it requires adopting a new approach. This is similar to those who emulate G‑d in the hope that it will improve their character and make them more G‑d-like.

They are starting from the outside struggling to break in, while the others are already on the inside forging ahead.