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.

And your thoughts...?