YOU SHALL WALK IN HIS WAYS
R. Akiva said, "‘You shall love your fellow as yourself’ (Lev. 19:18)
that is the Torah’s great general precept." Ben Azai said, "‘This
is the record of Adam’s line’ (Gen. 5:1) that is a greater general precept."1
Much has been written about the philosophical significance of this dispute.2
Without doubt, R. Akiva is here expressing some sort of universalistic principle.
Indeed, Malbim recognized as much when he identified this statement with the
well-known Kantian principle:
This is indicated by use of the letter lamed [as the preposition preceding
"fellow" in the verse cited by R. Akiva],3 which implies
standing in one’s fellow’s position, in that one wishes for one’s fellow what
one wishes for oneself. And the philosophers have already explained that the
principal rule, the source of ethical science, is the desire that all of one’s
actions be of general applicability; that is, if one wishes to derive benefit
through evil befalling another, one must first assess whether he would be
willing to see his action universally applied, such that anyone could impose
a loss on his fellow for the sake of his own benefit. And since it makes no
sense to incur a loss out of self-interest, one would likewise refrain from
imposing that loss on his fellow. And so, too, if one were able to benefit
This reading no doubt approaches the plain meaning of R. Akiva’s statement. But what does Ben Azai add to the discussion? We can probe his position more deeply by referring to the parallel version of his statement in the Sifra, as understood in Rabad’s commentary:
Ben Azai says, "‘This is record of Adam’s line.When God created [man],
He made him in the likeness of God’that is a greater general precept."
Which is to say, the first verse [the one cited by R. Akiva] teaches only
[that your fellow should be] "as yourself": if one is demeaned,
or accursed, or robbed, or beaten, his fellow is demeaned or accursed or beaten
with him. Accordingly, the second verse adds "in the likeness of God
He made him." Whom do you demean or curse [when you demean or curse a
person]? The image of the likeness of God. That is a greater general precept
than the first.5
The first, essentially formal, precept simply asserts equivalent standing.
The second adds material ethical demands, by establishing barriers that preclude
any compromise of that equivalence. I must honor my counterpart not merely because
he is like me, but primarily because he is created in the image of God.6
We will not dwell here on the implications and meanings of these two precepts,
but only on their significance as a matter of principle. We have here two examples
not of norms but of meta-norms; that is, a category of principles by which rules,
commands, and prohibitions, rather than deeds and conduct, are to be judged.
This incursion into the realm of meta-ethics, and its relationship to halakhah,
are the subject of the following discussion.7
As noted, the great innovation in R. Akiva’s statement (even in its third formulation, by Hillel the Elder, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow" [Shabbat 31b]) is rooted, in my view, in its transformation of the commandment to "love your fellow as yourself" into a "great general precept," that is, a principle from which additional commandments and general rules may be derived.
To be sure, one can understand this commandment as mandating a particular emotion or even as requiring actions of a particular sort vis a vis the other. Such an understanding implies the transformation of this commandment into an added, specific obligation. But the true significance of R. Akiva’s and Hillel’s statements rests on the fact that we have here not a specific commandment but a meta-commandment, a principle to be used in deriving new norms. This approach is prominent in the thinking of Maimonides, who explicitly emphasizes it in his various writings on the second method (ha-derekh ha-sheniyah). In Sefer ha-Mitsvot (second shoresh), for example, in the course of criticizing the method adopted by the author of Halakhot Gedolot, he says that
Those who rely on this idea list among the commandments visitation of the sick, comforting the bereaved, and burying the dead, in view of the aforementioned midrash on Scripture’s statement (Exod. 18:20) "make known to them the way [in which] they are to go and the practices they are to follow." They say "the way" refers to acts of kindness; "they are to go" refers to visiting the sick; "in which" refers to burying the dead; "and the practices" refers to the laws; and "they are to follow" refers to actions beyond what the laws require (Bava Qamma 30b). And they believe that each of these acts is a separate commandment, failing to recognize that all of the acts, and others like them, fall within the rubric of a single commandment, namely, His statement (may He be blessed) "Love your fellow as yourself."
The significance of this distinction becomes clear when we consider the standing of the commandment "Love your fellow as yourself." In interpreting that commandment (positive commandment 206), Maimonides says:
This refers to His having commanded us to love one another as we love ourselves,
such that one’s love and compassion for his brother will be the same as one’s
love and compassion for oneself, with respect to both person and property.
Whatever he wishes, I will wish; whatever I wish for myself, I will wish for
himas God (may He be exalted) says, "Love your fellow as yourself."8
In Hilkhot Aveil (14:1), Maimonides restates that determination: "It
is within the precept of ‘Love your fellow as yourself’ that all things that
you wish others to do for you, you should do for your brother in Torah and commandments."
To similar effect is his Commentary on the Mishnah (on Pe’ah 1:1),
where he says, "All interpersonal commandments are included within the
general precept of performing acts of kindness. Examine them and you will find
them there; as Hillel the Elder responded, when asked by the gentile to teach
him the Torah while standing on one foot, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do
to your fellow.’"9
Although "Love your fellow as yourself" would seem to be the highest ethical rule in the halakhic system, that is not in fact the case. A second, insufficiently recognized rule complements the first, representing an additional meta-ethical principle that transcends the first precept. This rule is articulated by Maimonides in Sefer ha-Mitsvot as follows:
It is that we are commanded to imitate Him (may He be exalted) to the extent
we can, as Scripture says, "You shall walk in His paths" (Deut.
28:9). And this command is reiterated as "Walk in all His paths"
[Deut. 10:12, 11:22], meaning, just as He called compassionate, so shall you
be compassionate; just as He is called merciful, so shall you be merciful;
just as He is called kind,10 so shall you be kind. The matter is
otherwise expressed in the statement, "After the Lord your God shall
you walk" (Deut. 13:5), meaning that resembling the good actions and
worthy qualities used metaphorically to describe God, may He be exalted, will
greatly exalt all humans.11
We have here two similar principles from which the very same laws are derived,
making it all the more important to try to distinguish between them. The distinction
I propose here is tied to the fundamental nature of the meta-norm "Love
your fellow as yourself" and its potential limitations. We can easily assess
the precept’s limitations by referring to the conclusion of Maimonides’ statement
in Hilkhot Aveil, cited above: "Do [so] for your brother in Torah
and commandments." The rule without doubt is based on the idea of the covenant,
that is, the aspiration to create a community embodying its religious mission.
The members of that community are envisioned as the organs of a body, obligated
to see one another as such. It follows that "Love your fellow as yourself"
constitutes a basic ethical rule, but one based on the principle of mutuality;
and it is bounded by the limits of the term "your fellow."12
On this view, love for one’s fellow is the basis for social ethics. Following
in God’s paths, in contrast, creates an ethical system based on an in personam
principle, the impulse to be like God. "You shall walk in His paths"
is a broad ethical precept lacking the foregoing limitations, for the Holy One
Blessed be He is good to the wicked and the righteous alike.
In my view, Maimonides explicitly recognized all the ethical implications of relying on the precept of resembling God, thereby transcending the limitations of the other laws. Proof of this can be found in Maimonides’ statement in Hilkhot Melakhim 10:12:
The sages commanded us to tend to the gentile ill and bury their dead along
with the Jewish dead, and to sustain their indigent along with all Jewish
indigent, for the sake of peace. As it is said, "the Lord is good to
all, and His mercy is on all his creatures" (Ps. 145:9); and it is said,
"its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace"
The quotation from Psalms supplements this discussion, demonstrating the extent to which Maimonides regards imitatio dei as a clear meta-halakhic principle, whose force transcends the limits that constrain other precepts.
H. Y. Roth has examined the concept of imitatio dei.14 Starting
from the premise that God’s essential attribute is "holy," 15Roth
determines "that for us (in Jewish thought), the idea of imitatio dei
entails no obligations."16 Going further, Roth comments "that
it is impossible to derive (and, if we evaluate the matter on the basis of the
texts themselves, no attempt was made to derive) a positive ethical program
from the idea of imitatio dei. The reason is simple. The God of Israel
is a ‘hidden God,’ whose name, according to an appealing homily, is ‘to conceal’17;
and inasmuch as He is concealed from us, it is impossible for us to imitate
or come to resemble Him." In Christianity, such an undertaking is possible,
as, for example, in the classic instance of Thomas a Kempis in De Imitatione
Christi, following the doctrine of the Incarnation, according to which God
became human. But despite all this, Roth claims, one unique attribute that lends
itself to imitation does flow from the idea of holiness, and that is the attribute
In my view, Roth’s analysis is incorrect. Maimonides’ determination, which is followed by other enumerators of the commandments, leads in a direction that Roth would appear to close off. Downplaying the importance of the multi-layered principle of imitatio dei skews our understanding of the ethical viewpoint of the medieval Jewish thinkers.
In his Guide (I:54), Maimonides explicates God’s revelation to Moses
in the rocky crevice [Exod. 33:12-23] and draws the well-known distinction between
"comprehension of God’s essence, may He be exalted," which Moses requests
when says "Show me, I pray, Your glory" (Exod. 33:18), and comprehension
of God’s governance of the world, requested in "Show me, I pray, Your ways"
(Exod. 33:13). This governance is identical with the attributes of action: "these
are the actions that emanate from Him, may He be blessed, and the sages call
them middot (characteristics)." Here Maimonides distinguishes explicitly
between two possible meanings of the term middot: (a) "aptitudes
of the soul," and (b) "actions resembling the actions that in us proceed
from moral qualities."19
Only in the second sense can one understand "middot" when they are ascribed to the Holy One Blessed be He; on no account can they be understood as aptitudes of the soul. The conclusion to be reached through knowledge of the attributes of action must be understood, in Maimonides’ view, against the background of the doctrine of imitatio dei.
And here lies the key to understanding Moses’ request "that I may know You, so that I may find grace in Your sight; and consider that this nation is Your people" (Exod. 33:13). The nation’s leader must adhere to God’s path; that is, he must follow the attributes of action: "the leader of the state, when he is a prophet, must strive to resemble these attributes." Surprisingly, it should be added, not only do the attributes of action provide a model; so, too, does their very ontological status. As already noted, a distinction must be drawn between the attributes that describe actions that can be ascribed to God and the attributes that describe aptitudes of the soul or the passions. That is a theological distinction; but it, too, must be emulated by the leader, who must distinguish sharply and absolutely between his actions and deeds on the one hand and his passions on the other. Still, he must act in the ways suggested by the characteristics:
And these actions [i.e., punishments] should flow from him in a measured,
appropriate manner, not simply to pursue his passion. He should not unleash
his anger or allow his passion to dominate, for all passion is bad and must
be guarded against to the extent possible. In some circumstances and with
respect to some persons, he should act with mercy and compassion, not only
from motives of mercy and compassion but because they merit it; and in some
circumstances and with respect to some persons he should act with vengeance
and anger, again not from motives of anger but because their guilt warrants
it. He must be able to condemn a person to death by fire without anger or
loathing for him, but only in a manner appropriate to the condemned person’s
guilt and taking account of the action’s benefit to the general welfare of
Without doubt, the thirteen middot (divine characteristics listed in
Exod. 34:6-7) account for only a small portion of the attributes of action.
Taken as a whole, they describe all the workings of the world and pertain to
all fields of knowledge. The thirteen middot are selected from this array,
and were revealed to Moses "because they are needed for sound government."20
In the Guide I:56, Maimonides denies the existence of any resemblance whatsoever between God and His creatures. But that is an ontological position; on the ethical plain (I:54), there can be resemblance, through imitation of the attributes of action:
For the highest goal of man is to resemble the Exalted One to the greatest
extent he can; that is, for our actions to resemble God’s actions, as the
Sages explained in interpreting "You shall be holy" [Lev. 21:2]
to mean "Just as He is compassionate, so, too, shall you be compassionate;
just as He is merciful, so, too, shall you be merciful." For the attributes
ascribed to Him, may He be exalted, are the attributes of his actions, without
implying that He Himself, may He be exalted, possesses qualities.
We may compare three different literary layers of Maimonides’ comments on "You
shall walk in His ways." In Sefer ha-Mitsvot his views are offered
in general, programmatic form. Resembling God consists of walking in
his paths. These general comments are supplemented in Mishneh Torah by
a consideration of the nature of those paths.21 Each quality must
be understood as "the middle way, in contrast to the two extremes."
There can be no doubt that Maimonides believed this Aristotelian teaching to
be paralleled in rabbinic literature. And so he writes explicitly that this
way of moderation is the way of the wise, in contrast to the way of the early
pious ones, who "would stray in their views from the middle path and veer
toward the extremes." It seems to me that a midrash on the path
between the extremes served as Maimonides’ source here:
To what can this be compared? To a high road running between two paths, one
of fire and one of snow. If one walks near the fire, he is burned; if one
walks near the snow, he is chilled. What should he do? Walk between them,
taking care to be neither burned nor chilled.22
The ties between the doctrine of imitatio dei and the attributes of
action, only hinted at in Hilkhot De`ot, are developed and explained
in the Guide, both in the first part and at the conclusion of the work
(III:54), as explicating a passage in Jeremiah: "Thus said the Lord: Let
not the wise man glory in his wisdombut let the one that glories glory in this,
that he understands and knows Me" (Jer. 9:22-23).23 In explicating
them, Maimonides determines that these verses present us with three imagined
goals that people pursue: perfection of property (wealth), perfection of physical
well being (might) and perfection of character (wisdom). Perfection of character
is included in this category, for it is a form of perfection directed to the
welfare of society, and, accordingly, to that of the other: "it is as if
this perfection of character benefits people, being directed toward the other."
This form of perfection has no meaning to an isolated individual, but there
is further ideal: "understand and know Me," that is, the ability "to
portray concepts so as to derive from them true ideas about Godliness."
That is the true wisdom; but even that did not satisfy the prophet. The verse
concludes "for I, the Lord, act with mercy, justice, and righteousness
in the world." That addition, too, is tied to comprehending God, but here,
the understanding progresses through the attributes of action. This understanding
brings us back to the real world, via the doctrine of imitatio dei and
by walking in the path of the thirteen characteristics:
For the purpose is to resemble [God] through them, thereby walking in His
ways. Given that, the purpose alluded to in this verse is the prophet’s explanation
that the human perfection in which one can truly glory is to comprehend God
in accordance with his ability and to recognize his oversight of his creaturesand
to follow that comprehension in ways directed toward always exercising mercy,
justice, and righteousness in order to resemble God’s actions, as I have explained
here several times.24
Here we have the ultimate ideal of the scholar, that is, the true philosopher: resembling God.
Let me now examine an additional way to understand the idea of imitatio
dei. We have considered Maimonides’ comments on the connection between this
idea and the array of ethical norms. The idea acquires a powerful corollary
when it is applied to Israel. In that instance, we can say the order is reversed.
We previously saw the doctrine of imitatio dei as a commandment, but
it also can be seen as a statement of fact. Israel carries with it the name
of God; the nation of Israel therefore walks in God’s ways; and Israel’s conduct
thus entails a sanctification of God’s nameor, God forbid, the opposite.25
Numerous anecdotes bring home the linkage between ethical conduct and sanctification
of God’s Name. Shimon ben Shetah, for example, when confronted by surprise that
he had returned a gentile’s lost property, responded, "Do you take me for
a barbarian? I wanted to hear them say ‘Blessed be the God of the Jews, Who
benefits this entire world.’"26 At first blush, these anecdotes
appear to teach us that the sages wanted to lead the gentile to recognize or
acknowledge the God of Israel, even if this recognition has ulterior purposes.
Looked at differently, however, these cases exemplify the principle discussed
above. They reflect more than a drive for acknowledgement of the God of Jews
and gratitude to Him; in my view, they recognize the fact that by acting in
this manner, the Jew, who bears God’s name, walks in God’s paths. Of him Scripture
says, "He said to me ‘You are My servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified’"
In light of this premise, we can probe the differences between the two moral
principles being analyzed here: loving one’s fellow and walking in God’s paths.
These differences can be illustrated with references to the halakhic treatment
of the relationship between Jew and gentile.28
It is well known that many laws are limited in their applicability to "your
brother," "your people," or "your fellow." The halakhah
extended their reach beyond those boundaries by the use of such concepts as
"for the sake of peace (mipenei darkhei shalom)" and "for
the sake of [avoiding] hatred [of Jews] (mishum eivah)." These principles
broaden the commandment to "love your fellow as yourself" in several
areas, and they rest, in principle, on the effort to construct a well-ordered
society. There exist, to be sure, situations in which the gentile is seen as
an enemy, and my relations with him are literally war-like. But if he is seen
as a partner in building society, I need to call on those principles that ensure
the survival of society: the pursuit of peace and the avoidance of hatred. There
may be a distinction to be drawn between "hatred [of Jews]" and "danger"29;
but that being as it may, this broadening of the commandment for the sake of
peace can be seen as utilitarian. The broadened concept is grounded in mutuality,
and its essence is clearly societal. But side-by-side with these utilitarian
precepts lies an additional precept, different in its very essence from pursuit
of peace. I am referring to the application in this context of the concepts
of sanctifying or desecrating God’s name, a usage that draws, in my view, from
the idea of walking in God’s paths.30
This sort of activity, when guided by the purpose of sanctifying the Name of
Heaven, transcends mere utilitarianism. It is grounded in the individual, lacking
any element of mutuality. A striking example of the conclusions that flow from
applying the principle of "you shall walk in His ways" rather than
that of "love your neighbor as yourself’ (or, in their parallel negative
formulations, from use of "because of [the need to avoid] desecration of
the Name" rather than "because of [the need to avoid] hatred")
can be found, I believe, in Rabban Gamaliel’s response to complaints by government
emissaries regarding the alleged injustice of certain Jewish laws: "at
that point, Rabban Gamaliel decreed that theft from a gentile is forbidden because
it desecrates God’s Name."31 This wording may be compared with
that of the Tosefta: "One who steals from a gentile must return
the property to the gentile; stealing from a gentile is a more serious matter
than stealing from a fellow Jew, because it entails desecration of God’s Name."32
This formulation suggests that the Tosefta here not only regards the
prohibition against stealing from a gentile as biblical [min ha-torah,
rather than only rabbinic, mi-de-rabbanan], but considers the offense
to be compounded by incorporating the sin of desecrating the Name. This analysis,
in turn, leads to two senses of "desecration of the Name" that need
to be distinguished. The first, evident in the Tosefta, finds expression
in the action of an individual violating his religion’s commandment. His unethical
conduct brings about desecration of the Name inasmuch as the individual is identified
by others with the God Whose Name he bears. Desecration in the second sense,
an idea powerfully presented in Rabban Gamaliel’s decree, is occasioned by the
existence of unjust or discriminatory laws. This is a sort of collective desecration
of the Name, a reaction to a nation whose laws are not proper and just. This
distinction between the two senses of "desecration of the Name," though
fine, is abundantly meaningful. The first sense is the more common one, setting
a sort of norm for conduct. The second, in contrast, highlights the full meaning
of "sanctification of the Name" as a meta-norm, through which other
ethical or legal norms may be determined or evaluated.
This analysis remains incomplete and problematic, however, for these concepts are meaningful only the context of public actions. A further example will show, however, that the concept of "sanctification of the Name" transcends the public/private distinction.
To clarify this point, we consider the well-known dispute between R. Yishmael and R. Akiva:
If a Jew and a gentile are before you in a lawsuit and you can vindicate
the Jew pursuant to Jewish law, do so and tell the gentile "such is our
law"; if you can vindicate the Jew under gentile law, do so and tell
the gentile "such is your law"; if you can do neither, contrive
against him [to vindicate the Jew]. That is the view of R. Yishmael, but R.
Akiva says, we do not contrive against him, because of sanctification of the
Name. (Bava Qamma 113a.)
This text uses the positive formulation "because of sanctification of
the Name" instead of the more common "because of desecration of the
Name." But without going into that textual issue33, the situation
considered here is no doubt one in which the gentile is held liable and the
Jew vindicated in accordance with laws that do not discriminate but that are
applied improperly ("contrive against him") without the gentile realizing
it. Even in such a case, involving no publicity, the commandment of "sanctifying
God" must be carried out.34 Prominent here once again are Maimonides’
limitation on R. Yishmael’s view, noted above, and his ensuing reference to
the doctrine of imitatio dei (Hilkhot Melakhim 10:12).
The nexus between the principle of walking in God’s paths and the commandment
of sanctifying His name stands out not only in the context of relationships
with the outside world, but also in internal relationships among Jews themselves.
In that context, one who walks in God’s paths is identified with the scholar,
inspiring Rav’s statement that a scholar desecrates God’s name by failing to
pay debts immediately.35 "Desecration of God’s Name" here
means bringing about a loss of faith or causing the multitude to sin, as Rashi
comments in explaining Rav’s concern: "One would learn from me to take
theft lightly." But it means as well deprecating the Torah that the scholar
represents: "This person who has studied Torah, look how flawed are his
ways, how vile his deeds" (id.). This idea brings Maimonides to the next
stage, the commandment to embrace scholars "so we bring ourselves to emulate
their actions."36 Imitation of God generates imitation of the
Even were we to deny the link I am positing between the principle of striving to resemble God and the idea of sanctifying His Name, application of the concept to the matter of relations between Jews and gentiles implies the existence of moral criteria by which the laws of the Torah and the conduct of Jews are judged and the correspondence of those moral criteria to God’s characteristics. But the link seems to me to make sense, given that cases in which sanctification or desecration of God’s Name is considered raise clear ethical concerns. From that point of view it is striking, as we saw earlier, that there are two moral principles: one limited in its applicability to a particular group, and one broadened beyond any such limits through its reference to walking in God’s path and sanctifying His Name.
Having considered the various implications of the concept of resembling God, let me conclude this survey with a particularly important conceptual observation. If we disregard the philological and historical components of the problem, and focus only on the conceptual aspect, we can distinguish several concepts included within the idea of imitatio dei. These concepts can be described schematically as regarding resemblance to God to be a path, a goal, or a starting point.
The first concept underlies the foregoing inquiry. Imitating God and walking in His paths are norms that determine our actions. More precisely, they are meta-norms that determine rules; they are directions transformed into laws. The first concept emphasizes the path.
In its second sense, imitatio dei is taken not as a commandment but
as a goal and a promise. Resembling God is promised as an eschatological destiny,
as the purpose of personal redemption. This meaning finds expression in Plato’s
Thaeatetus and, following Plato, in the writings of Philo.37
Righteousness brings man to resemble God and, thereby, to immortality. This
idea is found as well in rabbinic thought:
R. Levi b. Hama said, "If an idolater resembles his idol, as is written
(Ps. 115), ‘Those who worship them are like them,’ how much more so will one
who worships the Holy One Blessed Be He resemble Him. And how do we know this
to be so? It is written (Jer. 17:7), ‘Blessed is the man who trusts in the
Marmorstein has noted the interesting parallel to this doctrine in the teachings
of Philo, who uses the idea of resembling God to ridicule idolaters.39
Examples of this idea abound. Prominent among them is the statement of R. Elazar
regarding the righteous person who attains that status, which employs the motif
of sanctity that forms the basis for H. Y. Roth’s thesis: "In the future,
righteous people will be proclaimed ‘holy’ just as the Holy One Blessed Be He
is proclaimed ‘holy,’ as Scripture says, ‘Those that remain in Zion and the
remnant in Jerusalem will be proclaimed holy’ (Isa. 4:3).40
Alongside these two senses of "resemblance" is a third, which also
approaches but is not identical to the doctrine of imitatio dei. Taken
in this way, the term brings us back to our starting point, the dispute between
R. Akiva and Ben Azai. Prominent in Ben Azai’s comment is an idea that underlies
as well various statements by R. Akiva and many other sages, that is, the emphasis
on man having been created in the image of God. Seen in this manner, resemblance
to God is not a commandment but a fact; not a goal but a starting point for
human development. Moral conduct has two sources. As a subject, a person must
direct his actions so his ways are the ways of God. But as an object, a person
possesses rights, and these define areas and set boundaries for his actions,
inasmuch as he is created in the image of God. This idea appears in many variations;
there is, for example, a line of thought similar in principle, which sees the
image of God not in the individual but in collective humanity.41
The common thread is their emphasis on the value of man, the subject of human
Contrary to Martin Buber’s view, a living ethic is not to be gauged by this
array of values, insofar as it determines "what is proper and what is not
properhere and now."42 I have elsewhere considered the fact
that the distinction discussed here parallels the one between halakhah
and case-specific ruling. I do not wish to dwell here on this aspect of the
problem, but only to point out that the tension between halakhah and
ethics does not flow from some extra-halakhic category but is prominent within
the halakhic realm itself. This tension finds its expression in concrete halakhic
determinations. The present inquiry involves principles that establish, in my
view, the frameworks for halakhic morality. The transition from these principles
to concrete norms is difficult and complicated in the halakhic system as in
all ethical systems. Without going into the matter in detail, let me allude
to it through one classic, pointed example:
R. Nahman said in the name of Rabbah bar Avuah, "Scripture says, ‘Love
your fellow as yourself,’ [that is,] choose for him a decent death. (Ketubot
On the surface, capital punishment epitomizes the failure of ethical principles.
Nevertheless, the principle of "Love your fellow as yourself" applies
even in making a halakhic determination of this sort. There may be circumstances
in which one is obligated to take steps that are somehow morally compromised.
Even then, however, one remains bound by ethical principles that show one the
path in which to walk.43
Dr. Shalom Rosenberg is Professor of Jewish Philosophy at The Hebrew University
* First published in Hebrew in Filosophiyah Yisra'elit, ed.
Mosheh Halamish and Asa Kasher (Tel Aviv, 5743 [1982-83]). English translation
by Joel Linsider.
1. Gen. Rabbah, ed. Theodor-Albeck (Jerusalem, 5725 [1964-65]), p. 237.
2. See the summary by H. Y. Roth, Religion and Human Values (Heb.) (Jerusalem,
5733 [1972-73]), pp. 95 et seq.
3. Malbim bases his interpretation on the distinction between ohev et [in which
a simple direct object follows the verb "love"] and ohev le- [in which
the object is preceded by a preposition meaning "to"].
4. Malbim, Ha-Torah ve-ha-Mitsvot, Sifra Vayiqra 45 (on Lev. 19:18). Cf. R.
Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary on the Torah, Heb. translation by R. Mordechai
Breuer (Jerusalem, 5738 [1977-78]), pp. 318-319).
5. Peirush ha-Rabad (Jerusalem, 5719 [1958-59]), 89b.
6. According to Malbim, Ben Azai moves to an entirely different ethical principle.
One who follows R. Akiva's precept still "acts in all respects for the
sake of self-interest." It is proper, however, that a person "act
in all respects on account of the rules of the higher, inclusive understanding,
free of any admixture of self-interest." Ben Azai builds his precept not
on interest but on the claim that all people are as "one person and one
corpus." From this, it follows that one must love the other "because
he is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone."
7. See H.Z. Reines, "Yahas ha-yehudim le-nokhrim," Sura 4 (Jerusalem
and New York, 5724 [1963-64]):192-221; Ze'ev Falk, "Nokhri ve-ger toshav
be-mishpat ha-ivri," Mahalkhim 2 (5729 [1968-69]):9-15; David Rokeah, "Le-parashat
yahasam shel ha-hakhamim la-goyyim ve-la-gerim," Mahalkhim 5 (5731 [1970-71]):68-75.
See also the important work of Yehezqel Kohen, Ha-yahas el ha-nokhri ba-halakhah
u-ve-metsi'ut bitequfat ha-tanna'im (doctoral dissertation, Hebrew University,
Shevat 5735 ) and the many bibliographical references there. Many of the
articles considered there are labeled "apologetics," and the present
article may be deemed worthy of that disparaging characterization as well. But
it seems to me that the term alludes to only one significant and productive
distinction: that between, on the one hand, an effort to deal with a conflict
between a system and an external principle and, on the other, a similar effort
when the confrontation arises between principles indigenous to the system, one
of which has gained greater emphasis. In what follows, I attempt to show that
to be the case here.
8. Compare Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot De`ot 6:3. Here [in the passage from Sefer
ha-Mitsvot, in contrast to Hilkhot De`ot, which speaks of actions], the emphasis
is on the emotional relationship between a man and his fellow. The distinction
becomes apparent when we compare the positive commandment to love one's fellow
with the negative commandment forbidding hatred. "One who hates a fellow
Jew in his heart violates a negative commandment, as Scripture says, "Do
not hate your brother in your heart (Lev. 19:17)." The violation is not
punished by lashes, however, for it entails no action, inasmuch as the Torah
here admonishes us only regarding feelings of hatred. In contrast, the positive
commandment entails action, and it is not limited to feelings.
9. Maimonides, Peirush ha-Mishnah (ed. Kapah), p. 94.
10. Maimonides' various commentators have considered the rabbinic basis for
his statement here. Kesef Mishneh (on Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot De`ot 1:6) refers
us to Shabbat 133b, and see also Sotah 14a. Similar wording presented in the
name of Abba Sha'ul appears in Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Masekhta de-Shirta
(Jerusalem, 5720 [1959-60]), p. 137: "I will resemble Him: just as He is
merciful and compassionate, so shall you be merciful and compassionate. (See
there as well the statements of R. Yosi ha-Galili: "Declare the pleasantness
and praise of God before all the nations of the world" and of R. Akiva:
"I will speak of His pleasantness and praises...before all the nations of
the world...'therefore maidens have loved you' (Song. Of Sol. 1:3)...--loved you
unto death." Both of these statements are tied to the motif of qiddush
ha-shem (sanctifying God's name), to which we shall return presently.) Compare
as well Yerushalmi Pe'ah 1 (15b) and Masekhet Soferim 3:12. These formulations
lack the wording "called merciful," but as R. Elijah David Rabinowitz
Teumim has written (Benei Binyamin on Hilkhot De`ot 1:6), Maimonides' wording
"has its clear source in Sifrei on Parashat `Eqev." Sifrei there (par.
49, ed. Finkelstein, New York, 5729 [1968-69]), p. 114) indeed uses the wording
"is called...merciful": "'To walk in all His paths' (Deut. 11:22)-these
are paths of God. The Lord is a merciful and compassionate God, who declares
(Joel 3:5) 'everyone who calls on [or, as the Sifrei appears to read it, who
is called by-trans.] the Name of the Lord shall escape.' But is it possible
for a human being to be called by the name of God? Rather, God is called merciful,
and so shall you be merciful...so shall you be compassionate, as is said, 'Compassionate
and merciful is God...' (Ps. 145:8), bestowing gratuitous gifts... and therefore
it is said 'all who are called by the Name of the Lord shall escape,' and it
is said 'all who are called by my Name' (Isa. 43:7) and it is said 'the Lord
has made everything for His own purpose (Prov. 16:4)." Nevertheless, in
Guide of the Perplexed (I:54), Maimonides does not use the locution "is
called." We will treat the idea of being like God more expansively below,
noting for now only that Abba Sha'ul's formulation in Sifra uses the term "imitation":
"Abba Shau'l says, 'What is higher than to be in the king's retinue? To
imitate the king.'" (Sifra, ed. Weiss (Vienna, 1862), 86c. A different
version of the text reads "to await the king" [reading mehakeh instead
of mehaqeh], and on that basis, Rabad interprets "awaiting for the king
to determine his route or the city against which he will wage war...and so, what
is the duty of Israel as the retinue of the Holy One Blessed be He? They must
heed His words, go where He directs and follow the path He determines, and not
separate from Him." The concept of resembling God appears in many formulations,
explicitly or implicitly. Compare, among many other examples, Seder Eliyahu
Rabbah, chapter 26: "Just as the Holy One Blessed be He loves Israel wherever
they may dwell..., so shall a person love all Israel wherever they may dwell".
On the sages' concept of imitatio dei, see A. Marmorstein, "Die Nachahmung
Gottes (imitatio dei) in der Agada," Juedische Studien Josef Wohlgemut...gewidmet
(Frankfurt am Main, 1928), pp. 114-159, [="The Imitation of God in the
Haggadah," Studies in Jewish Theology (Oxford, 1960), pp. 109-121]. See
there at p. 113 the quotation from Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Deut. 34:6 and
parallel texts cited by Christian apologists who claim that the children of
Israel strive to imitate God in their kindness. Marmorstein associates imitatio
dei with the frequently encountered term "a partner of God" (id.,
p. 116), but that link, in my view, is problematic. Among other instances in
rabbinic literature, the parallel to the righteous person who sustains the needy
is particularly interesting. See the references cited by Marmorstein (id., p.
15, nn. 1, 2) and I. Abrahams, "The Imitation of God," Studies in
Pharisaism and the Gospels, Second Series (Cambridge, 1924), pp. 138-182; Hans
Kosmala, "Nachfolge und Nachahmung Gottes, Annual of the Swedish Theological
Institute, Im griechischen Denken, vol. II, 1963, pp. 38-85; Im juedischen Denken,
vol III, 1964, pp. 65-110. Kosmala believes the concept of imitation is a foreign
transplant in tannaitic thought. I am not persuaded by his evidence, and I will
deal with matter elsewhere.
11. Sefer ha-Mitsvot, Positive Commandment 8.
12. It should be noted that the limitation on the term "your fellow"
is understood as excluding not only the gentile but also the Jew who is not
"your brother in Torah and commandments." On the limitations of the
commandment to "Love your fellow as yourself," see Avot de-Rabbi Natan
(ed. Schechter, version A, chapter 16, 32b): "If he is with you in deed,
you must love him; if not, you do not love him." (See, on this, the introduction
by L. Finkelstein [New York, 5711 (1950-51)], pp. 47 et seq.) Finkelstein is
of the view that this limitation is erroneously attributed to R. Akiva, who
in fact claims that one is obligated to love all creatures, without limit, for
the addition of "I am the Lord" [at the end of the verse] implies
that "I, the Lord, created him," and your love therefore should not
be confined. See as well id., p. 49, n. 88 for Finkelstein's finding that the
effort to limit the rule even according to R. Akiva led to an emended formulation.
13. As we will see below, the underpinning for all these laws is the promotion
of peace, paralleling the second quotation from Maimonides. The link between
them and the idea of imitatio dei, in my view, is Maimonides' innovation. This
tie is made explicit at the end of Hilkhot Avadim (9:8): "So, too, with
reference to the qualities of the Holy One Blessed be He that we are commanded
to emulate, he says, 'His mercy is on all His creatures.'" My thanks to
Prof. Isadore Twersky who called this parallel to my attention; and compare
Bava Metsi`a 85a. All this notwithstanding, it is possible to find a talmudic
source for this nexus, in the account (Berakhot 7a) of R. Joshua b. Levi, who
wanted to curse the heretic who had aggrieved him. When he failed to do so because
the anger of the Holy One Blessed be He had been quelled, he said, "from
this we learn that it is not the way of the world to do this: it is written
"His mercy is on all his creatures" and "to punish is not good
for the righteous" (Prov. 17:26). [The verse in Proverbs actually means
"To punish also the righteous is not good"; the midrashic understanding
here alters the syntax.-trans.]
14. H.Y. Roth, "Ha-hiddamut la-el ve-ra'ayon ha-qedushah," in Ha-dat
ve-`erkhei ha-hayyim (Jerusalem, 5733 [1972-73]), pp. 20-30.
15. Roth gives this quality a philosophical interpretation, hinting at divine
transcendence, thereby denying Rudolf Otto's phenomenological stance.
16. Id., p. 30. Interestingly, Resh Laqish interprets Lev. 19:2 in a manner
that actually negates imitation of God: "'You shall be holy'-lest you think
'holy like Me,' the verse continues 'for I am holy'-My holiness is beyond yours."
(Lev. Rabbah 24:9, ed. M. A. Merkin [Tel Aviv, 1962], part 2, p. 61.) Marmorstein,
"Imitation of God," p. 117, tries to show on this basis that Resh
Laqish objected to the concept of imitatio dei, but he fails to prove his case.
We see here a limitation on the doctrine, but not necessarily a negation.
17. Le`alem, apparently a play on le-`olam, "Eternal."-trans.
18. Roth explains this in another article, "Tovo shel ha-el," in Ha-dat
ve-`erkei ha-hayyim, pp. 5-19.
19. "Tekhunot nafshiyot" and "pe`ulot domot le-peu`ulot ha-ba'ot
mei-ittanu mi-middot." The English renderings of these terms are per Shlomo
Pines, trans., The Guide of the Perplexed (Chicago and London, 1963) 1:124.-trans.
20. Maimonides thus overcomes a serious difficulty in the doctrine of imitatio
dei: does the obligation apply as well to such qualities as jealousness and
vengeance? Maimonides distinguishes, as noted, between actions and passions.
And a limitation on the doctrine of imitatio dei can thus be found in Midrash
ha-Gadol: "As Scripture says, 'Come, and see the works of God; He is terrible
in His doing (`alilah) toward the children of men' (Ps. 66:5)-this verse refers
to the deeds (`alilot) through which God governs His world, embodying one of
the four qualities that are appropriately employed by God alone and not by man,
i.e., jealously, vengeance, pride, and cunning [`alilah, playing on a different
sense of the word-trans.]." (Midrash ha-Gadol, ed. Margaliot [Jerusalem,
5707 (1946-47)] p. 619.) The sages certainly emphasized many limitations on
the idea of acting like God; for example: "Do not adjudicate as a court
of one, for the only court of one is the One, as Scripture says, 'He is singular
(be-ehad) and who can dissuade Him' (Job 23:13). And what the meaning of 'He
is singular'?-Resh Laqish said, the Holy One Blessed be He judges and renders
verdicts by Himself." (Deut. Rabbah 1:10; compare Avot 4:8; Yerushalmi
Sanhedrin chap. 1, 18a.) Compare Resh Laqish's statement quoted above, in note
16. The concept of cunning used by Midrash ha-Gadol resembles the "kindness
of the crafty" and the scheming of nature in Maimonides' system. See the
introduction by S. Pines to the Guide, Ben mahshevet yisra'el le-mahshevet ha-amim
(Jerusalem, 5737 [1976-77]), pp. 117 et seq., 163. And Maimonides writes in
the Guide (III:32) "When you examine divine actions, that is, natural actions,
you will see God's craftiness..." The author of Sefer ha-Hinukh, who generally
follows Maimonides in interpreting the commandment of imitatio dei, treats this
issue in a consistent manner: "Perhaps, my son, you will challenge me by
reference to Scripture's statement 'God is indignant every day' (Ps. 7:12)...But
do not thereby be misled, my son; Heaven forbid that God be wicked. Believe
only that He, may He be blessed, is the pinnacle of perfection...and the indignation
attributed to Him is merely a metaphor taken from the way of the world...in that
all would deserve at that moment to be wiped out if the quality of justice were
applied, but the quality mercy immediately restrains Him. Accept my interpretation,
my son, until you hear a better one." (Sefer ha-Hinukh, ed. H. D. Chavel
[Jerusalem 5716 (1955-56)], commandment 608, pp. 726 et seq.) One must emphasize
the distinction between Maimonides' treatment of the matter in the Guide (I:54)
and his parallel treatment in Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot De`ot 1:6). In the Mishneh
Torah, Maimonides stresses only the vital qualities "merciful, gracious,
just, righteous, complete, mighty, strong, and so forth, to proclaim them to
be good and proper ways." That consideration of the issue is directed to
people in general. In contrast, the Guide's comparison encompasses the quality
of judgment as well, in the context of the need to guide leaders. Comments of
the Sages are no doubt echoed here: "the good qualities abound" and
"the quality of strife is limited." (See Mekhilta 1:55, 103.)
21. Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot De`ot 1:5-6. Maimonides adds here "just as He
is called holy..." (!)
22. Avot de-Rabbi Natan, version A, chapter 28 , ed. Schechter, p. 43 col. 3.
See also Tosefta Hagigah 2:5; Yerushalmi Hagigah 2:1-"This teaching resembles
two paths [one of fire and one of snow]...what can one do? Walk between them"
(Venice ed. 9a). This passage is without doubt paralleled by the "middle
way" of Hilkhot De`ot. The cross-references between the doctrine of imitatio
dei and the doctrine of the golden mean are seen by Maimonides as interpreting
the commandment to walk in God's paths. Compare as well: "It is the nature
of fire, that a person who comes too near to it is burned, but one too distant
from it is chilled. The best course for a person is to warm himself in its glow"
(Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, section 4, ed. Horovitch-Rabin [Jerusalem 5720
(1959-60)], p. 215; Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai [Jerusalem 5715 (1954-55)],
p. 143). The link between the Torah and the scholars who walk in its path stands
out in Sifrei Deut., section 343. I see little doubt that the path in which
Israel is obligated to walk is seen as the path of God. Of particular interest
in this connection is the comment of the author of Sefer Ha-Hinukh: "The
sages of blessed memory said that one should always direct his attention to
this general principle [of moderation]; that is, he should intend to conduct
all his activities in a moderate and proper manner; and they found scriptural
support for the idea in the verse 'to him who sets his way properly, I will
show the salvation of God' (Ps. 50:23)-read not sam (sets) but sham (assesses)."
Also pertinent to our subject is a passage in Mo`ed Qatan 5a , which poses the
question "Where are grave markers alluded to in the Torah?" The various
answers include: "R. Joshua the son of R. Idi said, '"You shall inform
them of the path in which they are to walk" (Ex. 18:30)'....Ravina said,
'"to him who sets his way properly, I will show the salvation of God"';
R. Joshua b. Levi said, 'one who evaluates his way merits seeing the salvation
of Holy One Blessed be He, as Scripture says, "one who sets his way"-read
not sam (sets) but sham (assesses)....R. Yanai had a student who posed questions
to him every day [during his discourse] but did not do so on the Sabbath during
a festival [when the audience was large and it may have been difficult to respond
to the questions]. He applied to that student the verse 'to one who evaluates
his way [knowing when to refrain from a particular conduct] I will show the
salvation of God." The author of Sefer ha-Hinukh takes these statements
as alluding to the kinds of assessments that should guide a person in making
moral decisions, and he identified those assessments with Maimonides' doctrine
of the middle way. Particularly noteworthy is Rashi's comment on the passage
in Mo`ed Qatan: "'One who assesses his way'-he considers when to ask questions
and when not to," that is, he takes account of the practicalities of the
situation. (By the way, the marking of graves was considered an act of kindness.
It should be emphasized that Abba Sha'ul was active in burying the dead, "as
the baraita says, 'I was a burier of the dead'" [Niddah 24b; compare Tanhuma,
ed. Buber, 5:9 and Devarim Zuta 27]. There can be no doubt that he was not simply
an ordinary grave-digger ["a grave-digger of later times"], as suggested
by L. Ginsburg [The Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia, 1947)], but a sage who
both taught and carried out his teachings in a proper manner.)
It would be reasonable to infer that Maimonides generalized from "you shall
walk in his paths" to the concept of "the way." Thus, for example,
one might supplement Abba Sha'ul's homily with that of R. Joseph (Bava Metsi`a
30b): "'You shall inform them' (Exod. 18:20)-this refers to ways of making
a living (beit hayyeihem); 'of the way'-this refers to acts of kindness; 'they
shall walk'-this refers to visiting the sick; 'in'-this refers to burying the
dead; 'and of the action'-this refers to the law; 'which they shall do'-this
refers to doing more than the law requires." This homily underlies that
of the author of Halakhot Gedolot, noted above. In his commentary on Maimonides'
Sefer ha-Mitsvot, Nachmanides provides a very interesting explanation of the
homily in accordance with Maimonides' system: "According to his (Maimonides')
view, no specific commandment is to be derived [from the verse 'You shall inform
them...']. Jethro's advice to Moses [which the verse recites] was intended to
move Moses to inform the Israelites of the commandments and to urge them to
be eternally diligent in observing them, so there might be among them love,
brotherhood, peace and amity, thereby keeping ill-will and lawsuits to a minimum
and obviating frequent litigation. Jethro's advice concludes 'and this entire
nation shall reach its destination in peace,' recalling the comment that 'you
shall inform them' refers to ways of making a living, meaning that if they learn
crafts and skills through which they can support themselves, thefts and lawsuits
will be reduced; but no one includes this in enumerating the commandments."
(Commentary on the first principle [Jerusalem, 5719 (1959-60)], p. 22.) According
to this interpretation, the purpose of this line of commandments is solely utilitarian;
but one could also see the contrary claim in this homily. The statements in
the Talmud clearly suggest that the homily is understood to require moral conduct,
even beyond what the law demands. (Visiting the sick...[which seems to be within
the category of "acts of kindness"] is specified to include even visiting
one born under the same sign [in which case the visitor is believed to be placed
at risk by the visit]; burying the dead is specified to include [as subject
to the obligation] an elderly person whose dignity might be considered to exempt
him; "which they shall do"-refers to doing more than what the law
requires.) It may be assumed that Maimonides thought the two homilies to be
identical in their content, from which flows the connection between "the
way" and "more than the law requires," a connection that Maimonides
develops in Hilkhot De`ot 1:5. This homily is cited in the Mekhilta in the name
of R. El`azar ha-Mode`i. Let me note in passing that the opening line of the
homily-"you shall inform them-this refers to ways of making a living (beit
hayyeihem)"-resonates with an association from Ps. 128:1-2: "Happy
is the one who fears God and walks in His ways. You will eat the fruit of your
labors; you will be happy and prosper."
23. See also Guide I:18: "One who attains closeness to Him is exalted in
his understanding." The early commentators connected this comment with
I:59, 60. See also II:36.
24. I will not deal here with the question of how this layer of the moral system
relates to the previous one, the instrumental perfection of traits; I have no
solution to that problem. See S. Pines, op cit. n. 20, p. 162. R. Moshe of Coucy,
in Sefer Mitsvot Gadol, positive commandment 7 (Venice, 5307 [1556-57], 97a)
likewise relies on the verse in Jeremiah, and adds in that connection: "And
thus have I interpreted for the Spanish sages the verse 'Know the God of your
father and serve Him' (1Chr. 28:9)-just as He is gracious and merciful, doing
kindness, justice, and righteousness in the world, so shall you do. And here
are two witnesses [to that idea, one in connection with King] Josiah, of whom
it is said that he "ate and drank, and did justice and righteousness, then
it was well with him; he judged the cause of the poor and the needy, then it
was well; this is to know Me, says the Lord' (Jer. 22:15-16)." The second
witness is the verse from Jeremiah cited by Maimonides. We have here an additional
example of the identity between knowing the attributes of action and the doctrine
of imitatio dei.
25. God uniquely applied His Name to Israel: "'Hear, My people, and I will
speak; Israel, and I will testify against you; God, your God, am I' (Ps. 50:7)
-I am God to all who inhabit the world, yet I uniquely applied My Name only
to Israel" (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Mishpatim, chap. 9, p. 334 and
parallels). See also E.E. Urbach, Hazal-Pirqei emunot ve-de`ot (Jerusalem, 5729
[1968-69]) p. 480. But we have here more than unique application of the Name.
The righteous person is called by God's Name: "a mortal king is not addressed
by name, as, for example, 'Caesar Augustus Basilius'...but the Holy One Blessed
be He said to Moses, 'Behold, I have made you like Myself to Pharaoh' [apparently
based on Exod. 7:1, 'Behold I have made you elohim to Pharaoh-trans.]."
(Tanhuma, ed. Buber, Part 2, 11b.) Of particular importance is the comparison
drawn between the people of Israel and God: "Israel says 'there is none
like God,' and the Holy Spirit says 'Yeshurun is God' [reading el yeshurun in
that manner, rather than as "God of Yeshurun"-trans.]." This
linkage reflects R. Yohanan's statement, "The righteous are destined to
be called by the Name of the Holy One Blessed Be He." (Bava Batra 75b,
and see further there.) It is possible that the emphasis there is on limiting
those called by His Name, as those going up to Jerusalem are limited. (See.
26. Yerushalmi Bava Metsi`a 2:5 (Venice 5283 [1522-23]) 8, col. 3. See also
E. E. Urbach, op. cit., pp. 315-316 and other examples in the Yerushalmi, ibid.
Particularly interesting is Abba Oshaya's comment, "the Torah decreed that
it be returned," or R. Samuel b. Susrat's, "so that you not say I
did it for fear of you but, rather, for fear of God," both of which comments
evoked the response, "Blessed be the God of the Jews." What is significant
here is the emphasis on doing the good deed for the sake of God, not out of
personal interest (mere "avoidance of hatred" or "the ways of
peace); see more on this below. Compare as well Yerushalmi Bava Batra 2:11 (7,
col. 2), where the praise for God is elicited by the judge subjecting himself
to the ruling he imposes on others.
27. See Yoma 86a.
28. See generally Simon, op cit., and the works cited above, note 8.
29. Some distinguish between "[avoidance of] hatred" and "ways
of peace"; that was the position of J. Z. Lauterbach in "The Attitude
of the Jew towards the Non-Jew," CCAR Year Book 31 (1921):186-233. A similar
approach is taken by Z. Falk, op. cit. n. 7, and see the critique of D. Rokeah,
op. cit. n. 7, who negates the distinction between the positive and negative
formulations. See also the remarks of Y. Kohen, op. cit. n. 7, pp. 273 et seq.
30. According to Rokeah, the coinage "for the sake of [avoiding] hatred"
can be attributed to a late-third-century Babylonian amora, while "for
the sake of the ways of peace" "belongs almost certainly to the period
of Yavneh [late first-early second century Land of Israel]." Rokeah may
be right in arguing that the effort to distinguish between the two concepts
is fundamentally erroneous, but that would not negate the distinction between
[avoidance of] hatred and ways of peace on the one hand and desecration of God's
name on the other. Rokeah writes, for example, "...'because of desecration
of the Name' (=concern about retribution by the government), Bava Qamma 113b:
'A baraita teaches: R. Pinhas b. Ya'ir says, "where desecration of God's
name is at stake, even [a gentile's] lost property is forbidden [and must be
returned]"'(=concern about 'cursing God' or retribution by the gentiles)."
Rokeah thus interprets "because of descecration of the Name" as equivalent
to or encompassing "for the sake of [avoiding] hatred," but there
is not a scintilla of proof for that view. It is difficult to tell just what
R. Pinhas b. Ya'ir meant by "where desecration of God's Name is at stake,"
but it seems reasonable to understand him to mean that desecration is occasioned
by the gentile sensing the injustice in not returning the lost property, when
returning it is one of his own moral values. The key to understanding these
various halakhot may lie in an informed comparison of Jewish social legislation
("the laws between man and man") and the juridical norms and accepted
practices of the general culture within which the halakhah took shape. In any
event, the principle "for the sake of sanctifying God's Name" implies
assessment of the action itself, with emphasis on the actor, who bears God's
31. Yerushalmi Bava Qamma 4:3 (4b).
32. Tosefta Bava Qamma 6:15 (ed. Zuckermandel), p. 368; see also E. E. Urbach,
op. cit. n. 25, p. 315.
33. As to whether "because of sanctification" or "because of
descecration" is the correct version of R. Akiva's statement, see D. Rokeah,
op. cit. n. 7, p. 68, n. 2 and the response of Z. Falk, op. cit. n. 7, p. 74.
34. Even in the case of one compelled to commit idolatry, R. Yishmaeel argues
that in private, a person should commit the offense and save his life; he is
obligated to suffer death rather than commit the offense only where the incident
is public. (Sanhedrin 74a; Avodah Zarah 27b.) This passage, however, is problematic.
R. Akiva's statement corresponds to his "liberal" views with respect
to gentiles and lends support to Finkelstein's view (supra, n. 12). One clearly
must distinguish between two separate matters that implicate publicity. (A)
In a case of religious coercion, publicity transforms a minor offense into a
serious one, such that even in the absence of general persecution, "in
public one must suffer death rather than violate even a minor commandment"
(Sanhedrin 74a; see Urbach, op. cit. n. 25, p. 308). (B) An offense that is
not compelled, if committed in public, involves an element of desecration of
God's Name, as R. Haninah says: "better a man should violate a commandment
in private, and not publicly desecrate the Name of Heaven" (Qiddushin 40a).
That said, even in such a case the rabbis often emphasize the severity of a
sin committed in private: "One who sins privately is as if he undermines
God" (Hagigah 16a). In the first type of case, publicity accompanies an
act that already entails desecration of the Name, such as an idolater cursing
God. In the second, it transforms a minor offense, or even a neutral act, into
a desecration of the Name. There can be no doubt that these concepts correspond
to two different senses of "sanctification of the Name": (1) a person's
readiness to sacrifice or endanger his life in order to avoid sinning; and (2)
his performance of an action that brings others to accept the yoke of the Kingdom
of Heaven, as Abayye says, "'You shall love the Lord your God' [Deut. 6:5]-cause
the Name of Heaven to become beloved" (Yoma 86a). In Sefer ha-Mitsvot,
positive commandment 83, Maimonides explicitly draws similar distinctions. With
respect to desecration of the Name, he distinguishes (1) a case in which a Jew
is compelled by force to violate commandments, regardless of whether it is a
time of general persecution from (2) a case in which a person known for piety
and righteousness commits a specific action that appears to the public to be
sinful... even if it is a permitted act. Category (3) includes sins committed
by a person who satisfies no lusts and derives no pleasure from performing them.
Max Kadushin considers a fourth category, particularly in Chapter 7 of his The
Rabbinic Mind (New York, 1952); it is represented by sanctifying God's Name
through public worship and may parallel the third category. A totally different
motif is the linkage of desecration of God's Name with failing to do what God
wills, as stated by R. Shimon b. Elazar: "When Israel performs God's will,
His Name is made great in the world...but when they fail to perform His will,
His Name is desecrated in the world." The statement may reflect the view
that as a consequence of sin, God declines to show his providence to Israel
and that, in turn, misleads gentiles who see confirmation that Israel's beliefs
are incorrect. See Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Masekhta de-Shirah 63, p. 128.
This ties in with another very important distinction related to the idea of
sanctification of God's Name. See the apposite interpretation of Eccl. 7:9 cited
by Urbach, op. cit. n. 25, p. 313; I believe this interpretation links the biblical
and rabbinic senses of sanctification of God's Name-a distinction drawn by A.
Holtz-according to which only category (4) is characteristically rabbinic.
35. Yoma 86a. The text there reads "In what situation [is there desecration
of God's Name]? Rav said, 'If one such as I purchase meat from a butcher and
fail to pay immediately.'"-trans.
36. Sefer ha-Mitsvot, positive commandment 6.
37. See Thaeatetus 176a-b. For Philo's view of imitatio dei, see De Specialibus
Legibos IV, 188 and Colson's comment in his English translation, vol. VIII,
p. 43b. In Colson's view, Philo explicitly states that imitatio dei involves
being righteous, holy, and wise (De Fuga et Inventione); see also p. 63. See,
as well, S. H. Bergman, "Qiddush ha-shem" in Be-Mish`ol (Tel Aviv,
5736 [1975-76]), pp. 182 et seq. Bergman directs attention to the Zohar (Part
I, 9b-10a) as exemplifying the idea that "the Holy One Blessed Be He Himself
commands man to be like Him in all respects." On close examination, however,
that text, though it forcefully presents the concept of imitatio dei, does not
see it as a source of moral conduct; the concept is presented in the second
sense described above, not the first. Bergman's ideas in this article are particularly
important overall, despite what I believe to be the flimsiness of the connections
with early rabbinic literature and kabbalistic sources drawn there.
38. Deut. Rabbah 1:12. And see id. 1:9, where R. Simon says in the name of R.
Joshua b. Levi, "Anyone who trusts in the Holy One Blessed Be He merits
becoming like Him." Compare Yalqut Mekhiri (ed. Buber) 146a and Pesiqta
Rabbah (ed. Friedman) 46b: "But in the future, they will exist and resemble
the Holy One Blessed Be He; just as the Holy One Blessed Be He is fire that
consumes fire...so they will constitute fire that consumes fire."
39. De Decalogo 39.
40. Bava Batra 75b. The stress on sanctity is especially prominent in light
of Resh Laqish's reservations about comparing man and God in this area. See
above, n. 16.
41. Examples of this idea can easily be found in kabbalistic literature. Radbaz
explains the commandment to love one's fellow as follows: "When he loves
his fellow in the terrestrial world, it is as if he loves his fatherly fellow,
the Holy One Blessed Be He; and the reason is that their forms allude to the
same idea, as is written, 'in the image of God He created him'-his head encompasses
three spiritual qualities, his arms are kindness and fearsomeness.... Given that,
in loving his fellow he loves God as well, for his fellow is God's likeness....And
you can understand on this basis the comment in Nedarim regarding whether one
whose hand is struck by a knife can in turn strike the hand that struck him,
and the reason is that all Israel are a single corpus and their soul is hewn
from the divine unity; and of this it is said, 'all Israel are responsible for
one another'" (Metsudat David, 3b). I have cited this example because it
intermingles the two motifs: the individual and the collective are both in the
42. Martin Buber, "Dat u-musar," in Penei Adam (Jerusalem, 5722 [1961-62]),
43. In his Yad Ramah on Sanhedrin, R. Me'ir Ha-Levi Abulafia explains this paradoxically:
"Love your fellow refers even to the wicked among you [playing on re`a,
fellow, and ra`, wicked]." (See Shitah Mequbetset ad loc.; and the passage
is cited by Finkelstein in his introduction to Avot de-Rabbi Natan, p. 50, n.89.)
Shitah Mequbetset cites another interpretation based on the idea that "once
the verdict is carried out against the evildoer, he is considered righteous,"
or "once he is punished, he is [again] called your fellow." Abulafia's
innovation, of course, is to apply that principle even before the verdict is