Three Pillars in Mikhah

Many comment on a pasuk from this week’s haphtorah:

He tells you man, what is good, and what does HaShem expect of you? Only do justice, to love kindness, and to walk modestly with your G-d.

- Michah 6:8

In modern times, much of this attention is because of how grossly this pasuk was mis-appropriated by the Reform movement as a basis for their abandonment of the mitzvos.

In contrast, the Gemarah understands the three things named in this pasuk to include all 613 mitzvos.

R. Simla’i expounded: 613 mitzvos were told to Moshe, 365 prohibitions, like the number of the days of the solar [year], and 248 [required] actions, corresponding to the limbs of a person…

Came Michah, and established them on three principles, as it says “He tells you man…” “Do justice” — that is the law. “Love kindness” — that is gemilas chessed [supporting kindness], “Walk modestly” — this is taking out of the dead, and welcoming the bride.

This is a kal vachomer [a fortiori]. If things that are not normally done in private [that is, taking care of the dead, and making happiness with the bride] the Torah obligates us to do modestly; things which are normally done in private, how much more so!

- Makos 24a

The gemara’s words require some explanation. On the one hand, it indicates that the all 613 mitzvos, can be found in this pasuk. On the other hand, it also explains the pasuk to refer to the law, chessed, taking care of the dead, and throwing weddings for brides. How does this list represent the entire Torah?

The Marhashah (ad. loc.) explains the kal vachomer to mean that the Gemarah includes all mitzvos in its explanation of “walking modestly with G-d”, that all mitzvos — even these two, must be performed lishmah, for their own sake, with no hope of glory, no ulterior motive. Only in this way do we take the “justice” and “kindness” and instill them into the core of our beings.

Traditionally, the mitzvos are divided into two categories, Bein Adam Lamakom — between man and the Omnipresent, and Bein Adam Lachaveiro — between man and his fellow man.

To the two categories of mitzvos, the Ba’alei Mussar [Masters of Ethics] add a third: Bein Adam Li’atzmo — between man and himself. However, R. Yisroel Salanter describes this third category not so much as a type of mitzvah, but rather as a description of how the mitzvah is done: was it willingly or grudgingly, was it for public recognition or because it is was mitzvah.

The Maharal uses a similar concept to explain the second mishnah of Prkei Avos. The mishnah reads:

Shimon the Righteous was of the survivors of the Great Assembly. He often said, “Upon three things the world stands: on the Torah, on avodah — the service [of G-d], and on gemillus chassadim — acts of loving-kindness.”

The Maharal explains that “you must understand, that all creations depend on man. For they are created for man, and if men do not live up to what they ought to be, behold all is nullified.” The universe stands on these three principles because man does.

Therefore, the divine Tanna writes that one pillar that the universe stands upon is the Torah, for the pillar completes man so that he can be a finished creation with respect to himself.

After that he says “on avodah”…. for from this man can be thought complete and good toward He Who created him — by serving Him…. With regard to the third, it is necessary for man to be complete and good with others, and that is through gemillus chasadim.

You also must understand that these three pillars parallel three things in each man: the mind, the living soul, and the body. None of them have existence without G-d. The existence of the soul is when it comes close to HaShem by serving Him…. From the perspective of the mind, the man gets his existence through Torah, for it is through the Torah that man attaches himself to G-d. To the body, man gets his existence through gemillus chassadim for the body has no closeness or attachment to HaShem, just that HaShem is kind to all. When man performs kindness G-d is kind to him, and so gives him existence.

These three pillars are tied to the concepts we developed in our studies of parshiyos Sh’lach and Chukas. We saw that halachah views man as composed of three parts, each with its own drives: the body, the mind, and the soul. This model helped us understand a number of the mitzvos.

Spiritual man lives in the upper world where he can relate to G-d. Physical man lives in the physical world where he can sense the needs of other people, and shower kindness upon them. The mind lives by itself, however it is equipped with intelligence so that it can learn Torah for perfection of that self.

The pillars also describe the three types of mitzvah. “Torah” is the means for using to “complete himself”, it is the archetype of man relating to himself. “Avodah” includes all mitzvos between spiritual man and G-d, just as “Gemillus Chassadim” includes all mitzvos between physical man and fellow man.

This means that the parts of the human condition, the three pillars described in the mishnah, and the three types of mitzvah, are all parts of the same phenomenon.

Perhaps in this light we can better understand the Maharshah’s comments on the pasuk in Michah. This pasuk also gives a three-part description of the entire Torah.

What does G-d demand of us? “Do justice” — “Avodah”, serve G-d. “Love chessed”, use your physical senses to serve your fellow man. Justice and kindness, as the Maharal tells us, are tools for serving G-d and man, respectively, for properly utilizing body and soul.

But these two pillars can not stand on their own. You must also tend to those mitzvos that are between man and himself. You must not only do the mitzvos, but do them correctly. Do the mitzvos with modesty, not as part of a pursuit of glory.

Shelach 5754

(Another version of this thought was included in Mesukim MiDevash for parashas Shelach, in the “Bemachashavah Techilah” column, pp 1-2. -micha)


Inherent Tension

Judaism sees man as a synthesis of two opposite concepts. On the one hand, man is a physical animal, on the other, he carries “the spark of the Divine.” As the Torah describes it:

Then G-d formed Man, dust of the ground and breathed into his countenance the breath of life.

- Bereishis 2:7

Each of his parts pulls man in its direction. The physical man shares many of the needs of a creatures. He feels hunger, has sexual urges, wants comfort, heat when he is cold. He longs to satisfy his nerve endings.

We should be clear that the physical is not inherently evil. Shabbos would not be complete without three meals. Simchas Yom Tov, the joy of the holiday, is defined by the Torah by eating — by the holiday meal and partaking the Yom Tov sacrifices.

The spiritual man craves G-d and spirituality. He wants to be more than mere animal. Just as the physical man is not inherently evil, the spiritual man is not inherently good. Cult members too are striving to speak to G-d, to experience Him. As the Pesach Hagadah states, “In the beginning our ancestors were idol worshipers.” We take pride that they searched for G-d even though they reached the wrong conclusion.

While we are tempted to think of these two parts of our mind as complete opposites, they have one thing in common. They describe man as a creature, as a passive being pushed by the forces around it.

Every person is torn between these poles. We find ourselves pulled by the physical and the spiritual parts of our minds. The fact that there is a “self”, the one feeling this pulling, gives us a third piece to the human puzzle. There is a part of man that must do the deciding, that is endowed with the G-d given free will to choose his actions.

Since it is the “I” who is getting pulled by these two forces, the part involved with free-will must also be the seat of awareness. When we describe man as being “in the image of G-d”, we are describing this element of him. Aware, a decider of his fate, a creator.

Tzitzis as a Description Human Nature

R. SR Hirsch understands many aspects of this mitzvos to be osos, symbols Hashem uses to convey certain concepts and priorities to the core of each Jew. He finds the role and function of each of these components of the human condition alluded to in the mitzvah of tzitzis in two different ways: in the color of the strings in the tzitzis, and in their number. In “Collected Writings” (Volume III page. 126) Hirsch comments:

We find only three terms to encompass the colors of the spectrum: adom for red, yaroq for yellow and green, and tekheiles for blue and violet….

Red is the least refracted ray; it is the closest to the unbroken ray of light that is directly absorbed by matter. Red is light in its first fusion with the terrestrial element: adom, related to adamah [footstool, earth as man's footstool -- M.B.] Is this not again man, the image of G-d as reflected in physical, earthly matter: “vatichsareihu me’at mi’Elokim” (Tehillim. 8,6).

The next part of the spectrum is yellow-green: yaroq.

Blue-violet is at the end of the spectrum: techeiles.

The spectrum visible to our eye ends with the violet ray, techeiles, but additional magnitudes of light radiate unseen beyond the visible spectrum. Likewise, the blue expanse of the sky forms the end of the earth that is visible to us. And so techeiles is simply the bridge that leads thinking man from the visible, physical sphere of the terrestrial world, into the unseen sphere of heaven beyond….

Techeiles is the basic color of the sanctuary and of the High Priest’s vestments; the color blue-violet representing heaven and the things of heaven that were revealed to Israel… no other color was as appropriate as techeiles to signify G-d’s special relationship with Israel. A thread of techeiles color on our garments conferred upon all of us the insignia of our high-priestly calling, proclaiming all of us: “Anshei qodesh tihyun li — And you shall be holy men to Me” (Ex. 19, 6).

If we now turn our attention to the pisil techeiles on our tzitzith, we will not that it was precisely this thread of techeiles color that formed the krichos, the gidil, the thread wound around the other threads to make a cord. In other words, the vocation of the Jew, the Jewish awareness awakened by the Sanctuary, that power which is to prevail within us, must act to unite all our kindred forces within the bond of the Sanctuary of G-d’s law.

By wrapping a blue thread around the others we are demonstrating a fundamental principle. Physicality and mental exploration have great value, but only as tools. The end must be to strive to go beyond the spectrum, to reach to be closer to Hashem then we are today.

Elsewhere R. Hirsch explains the concepts symbolized by the numbers 6, 7, and 8. Dr. Isaac Levy includes this explanation in his English translation of Hirsch’s commentary to this week’s parshah (16:41):

The origin of this meaning is to be found in the work of the Creation. The visible material world created in six days received with the seventh day a day of remembrance of, and bond with its invisible L-rd and Creator, and thereby its completed consummation. Similarly the symbolism of the number seven in the Menora, in the Temple, in the Mussaf offerings, in the sprinklings of the blood on Yom Kippur, in the Festivals of Pessach and Succoth, in Sabbath, Schmita, Tumma etc. etc. The symbolism of the number eight: starting afresh on a higher level, an octave higher. The eighth day for Mila, Schmini Atzereth and Israel as the eighth of G-d’s Creations. With the creation of Israel G-d laid the groundwork for a fresh, higher mankind and a fresh higher world, for that shamayim chadashim and the `eretz chadashah for which Israel and its mission is to be the beginning and instrument (Is. LXV,17).

So that there are three elements in us. (a) our material sensuous bodies, like the rest of the created visible world = 6; (b) the breath of free will, invisible, coming from the Invisible One = 7; (c) the calling of Jew, coming from the historical choice of Israel = 8.

This too parallels the understanding of man that we have outlined. The six is physical, the seven represents free will, and the eight is man’s striving to be something more.

Tzitzis, worn so that “ye shall remember and do all My commandments”, is explained in this light.

These are the three elements out of which the tzitzis threads are woven. All these three elements are given to us, are woven into our being and are to be realized in completing our calling. But in these three energies two are to be the directing and ruling ones; the “six” in us is to subordinate itself to the seventh and eighth which are also given as part of us, and is to allow itself to be overcome, wound round, by the firm restraining bonds of duty…. Once the bodily sensuality has submitted itself to the bonds of duty through the Divine and Jewish elements, it becomes completely equal to its brother-energies, and like them, is to expand in free development within the limits of Jewish human duty.

The physical man finds expression, but only after he has been channeled and guided by G-d-like free-will and a drive to surpass nature. This is the essence of Hirsch’s vision of Torah im Derekh Eretz — Torah with the way of the world. Man’s goal is not to strive for spirituality to the exclusion of the physical, but rather to use the physical drives as tools for human growth.

In Hirschian thought, the complete human masters the art of six and seven, the physical and the mental. Notice that Hirsch calls the seven divine, not the eight of the spiritual creature. It is the free-will that makes man like G-d, merely being a passive resident of heaven pales by comparison.

According to the Rambam, it is the eighth string which is the techeiles. In this way the tzitzis instructs each Jew that he has the tools to strive for some thing beyond mere human. He must take his physical resources and divine intellect and apply it to the spiritual realm.

© 1995 The AishDas Society