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Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Basis for all mitzvot?

A few weeks ago Dini and I were continuing our study of Heschel’s book, Heavenly Torah. And
the question was asked, is there one general principle that all the mitzvot serve?
For example, Hillel’s famous statement that the enitre Torah is nothing but a commentary on the Leviticus 19:18 – "Love your neighbor as yourself" is in a sense an attempt to apply a general principle that all the mitzvoh serve.

Heschel comments on this by saying "That while such an example can be used as an general
principle underlying the mitzvot that deal with relationships between people, what about the
commandments between us and God?

For example, what about the commandments contained in the Shema, – teaching the words
to our children, keeping them on our gates and doorposts. Can we really look to "love your
neighbor" as a general underlying principle for these principle for their existence?
So I think there is a better candidate for the "meta reason" behind all the commandments.
Gen. 1:27. And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Why this is my candidate for the general principle upon which all mitzvot are based?
For openers, it is gender inclusive. There can be no question that men and women were equally
created in His image. The creation of "man" is in the "male and female" form. So I’m guessing
that the use of "man" here is the same as "human" or "mankind"

Beyond this, the knowledge that humans were created in God’s image results in a kind of double awareness.

First, the awareness that every person you deal with in any way is created in God’s image, and so what you do to them you do to God.

Just as you cannot harm a child without harming the parent, you cannot
harm your neighbor without harming God. Just as an act of kindness to
a child is an act of kindness to his or her parents, an act of kindness to your neighbor is an act of
kindness to God. This is similar to the jewish view, or at least a jewish view, of the hereafter.
We’ve discussed before the concept that our world and the hereafter are not two distinct worlds, but are rather directly linked and intertwined, so that what we do on earth has a direct impact on "heaven." From this viewpoint, we can say that each commandment exists to remind us that
all acts are sacred or at least have the potential to be sacred – to effect both earth and heaven.
So the awareness that comes from understanding that everyone is created in God’s image can, I
think, be a general principle for all the commandments that deal with interpersonal relationships.

There’s a second, "corallary awarness" that should flow from the understanding that we are
created in God’s image, that should be self evident but I think we often forget. It is not just the
the rest of the people in our world that are created in His image. It’s us. In a real sense, we’re
commanded to acknowledge that we ourselves are created in God’s image and, because of that,
that we are holy. Not just our neighbors. This type of awareness covers, I think, all
the other mitzvot that do not, on their face, deal with interpersonal relationships. Because as
creatures made in the image of God, each thing we do, every action, whether it is prayer, eating, work, waking up in the morning, etc., is done by a representative and as a representation of

One of the first things I learned when I started studying with Dini was that the mitzvot can be
viewed as religious speed bumps. Commandments that demand that, throughout the day one
pause from the mundane recognize and acknowledge the sacredness of each moment.
Constant reminders that there is something greater than ourselves and that we are part of
something greater than ourselves.

As a general principle being created in Hashem’s image demands
that kavanah be brought into all our actions. If the mitzvoh are "religious speedbumps" to remind us throughout the day of the sacredness of life, of existence, then being created in God’s image is the metaspeedbump to remind us to bring kavanah to all the mitzvoh.

In the 71st Pslam we read "Cast me not off in the time of old age." A plea to God not to let our
world grow old. Creation is an ongoing process. God renews all creation every day. We are not
just distantly created in God’s image. It is much more immediate. We are all Adams and Eves.
Shabbat Shalom.


Blogger Brooklyn Habiru said...

So - v’ahavta lireicha kamocha is the basis for the mitzvos that are bein adam l’chaveiro and mankind being made b’tselem Elokim is the basis for the mitzvos that are bein adam l’makom. The premise for the latter being that we act as a ‘representative’ of HaShem and therefore must reflect that in our actions. However that assumes that all of our mitzvos have a reason that can ultimately be deciphered by the observer... or for that matter even by ourselves. There is the issue of mitzvos that are chok (think of shatnez for example) - that is to say there is no apparent reason why we do them aside from the fact that we accept the revelation of the Torah and as such HaShem commanded this. Furthermore, this issue of “religious speedbumps” seems only potentially applicable to the mitzvos that are of the aseh nature - and not to those that are lo ta’aseh.

6:07 PM, February 23, 2006

Blogger Valke said...

I don't believe that we have to assume that all mitzvoh have a reason that can be ultimately viewed by the observer. As His "representative" we are not simply abassadors to others, but to ourselves as well. And all the mitzvot can be viewed as a way to remind us of this. Or to put it another way, all the mitzvot can be a reminder to us that we are His creations and therefore have an obligation to treat all justly.

5:18 AM, February 24, 2006

Blogger Brooklyn Habiru said...

For that very reason I stated "or for that matter even by ourselves" - which means that this would preclude the possibility of this type of Mitzvah as being ambassadorial even to ourselves - for we too cannot make an internal observation as to the essence and rationale behind it.

11:34 AM, February 24, 2006

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9:00 AM, May 19, 2006


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