Mitzvot and Kedushah

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

There are many ways to classify the mitzvot of the Torah. One of the most common approaches is to view some commandments as referring to obligations Bein Adam LaMakom, divine directives that refer to G-d – man relationships, and others as Bein Adam Lechaveiro, obligations between man and his fellow man. Rav Soloveitchik believed that it is the Kedushah element within the Jew that is the driving force to performing Mitzvot between man and his fellow man.

When HaShem speaks about Avraham Avinu, saying “He commands his sons and his household after him, that they should Veshamru Derech HaShem-(keep the way of

G-d)  La’asot Tzedakah U’Mishpat (to perform righteousness and justice) (Bereishit 18:19). According to the Rav, Veshamru Derech HaShem refers to the pursuit of Kedushah, whereas the expression of La’asot Tzeddakah U’Mishpat –connotes “practicing righteousness and justice”.  Thus, Avraham Avinu’s testament was twofold:

Keeping the ways of HaShem, which requires Kedushah, and also-down to earth practicing righteousness and justice. Many people view tzeddakah U’mishpat as being related to BEIN ADAM LECHAVEIRO, and Kedushah as referring to BEIN ADAM LA’MAKOM. But this is not so, said Rav Soloveitchik.

The norm of Kedushah is all-inclusive. It embraces the total structure of human activity. In fact, when the Torah speaks of being holy, Kedoshim Ti’hi’yu-You shall be holy, (VaYikra 19:2) and enumerates the areas where one is called upon to exercise Kedushah, most of them are BEIN ADAM LECHAVEIRO.

The Rav related a story about his great-grandfather, Reb Yoshe Ber of Brisk, that on one erev Shavuot, late in the afternoon on his way to shul, he noticed a flower stand that was still open. He went over to the woman and said: “My dear, it is late. We will usher in the Yom Tov very soon. Why don’t you go home to your family? “Yes, Rabbi”, the woman answered, “but I haven’t sold any flowers. A man set up a wagon loaded with flowers, and everyone bought from him. In fact, his flowers were much nicer than mine. What shall I do Rabbi, there in nothing in the house, no food, no wine, no candles! I have nothing to look forward to.”

Ordinarily, Reb Yoshe Ber would give her every coin of monies he had, but going to shul already, he had nothing to give, yet he could not ignore her plight. So he told the woman to step aside. He took her place and began announcing aloud how beautiful the flowers were, how sweet they smelled. People suddenly encountered a strange scene. Their would-renowned Rabbi, in his Yom Tov garments was zealously selling flowers and-charging exorbitant prices. Of course, all the flowers were sold quickly despite the prohibitive prices.

The Rav noted that it is unclear as to whether or not the incident related in the story was true or not. The point here, is however, not the authenticity of the story, but rather the deep and fundamental message it represents.

The fact that such a folk-story is told is indicative of the demands the Jew makes upon his own conscience as regards Kedushah. In other words, to help someone in distress, you must be willing to sacrifice not only your money but your very dignity and pride. Avraham Avinu was excited when he saw three men approaching, giving him the opportunity to perform the mitzvah of Hachnasat Or’chim (Bereishit 18:2). What did he do?  Vayaratz  lik’ratam–He ran towards them. Then, Va’ye’ma’heirhe ran to his tent to inform his wife Sarah, saying to her: Ma’ha’riquickly prepare loaves of bread, while Avraham himself Ratz–ran to the animals for meat. What message is the Torah conveying? The mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim was given to us by Moshe Rabbeinu when he commanded us to follow the ways of G-d, Ve’halachta Bidrachav (Devarim 28:9). But Avraham, a ninety year old man running back and forth is teaching us to do the mitzvah with a feeling of Kedushah, and at times even sacrificing our pride and dignity.

(Source: Rabbi David Etengoff)

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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