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Parsha and Manuscript: Re’eh – ‘Imitatio Dei’

Friday, 14 August, 2020 - 3:41 pm

MS. Canon. Or. 81 Re'eh.pngIn the Torah portion of Re’eh it discusses the concept of ‘Imitatio Dei’ – the commandment to imitate the ways of G-d. This is indicated in the following verses, where it states:[1] ‘You shall follow the Lord, your G-d, fear Him, keep His commandments, heed His voice, worship Him, and cleave to Him.’[2] Similarly, it states:[3] ‘For if you keep all these commandments which I command you to do them, to love the Lord, your G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave to Him,’[4] ‘You shall fear the Lord, your G-d, worship Him, and cleave to Him and swear by His Name,’[5] and: ‘The Lord will establish you as His holy people as He swore to you, if you observe the commandments of the Lord, your G-d, and walk in His ways.’[6]

 

The Talmud[7] interprets the ideal of ‘following G-d’s ways’ pertaining to four specific behaviours: a. that one should clothe the naked, as G-d clothed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, b. visit the sick, as G-d visited Abraham following his circumcision, c. console mourners, as G-d consoled Isaac after the passing of Abraham and d. bury the dead, as G-d buried Moses.[8] The Midrash[9] includes the act of matching pairs together for marriage. Maimonides argues[10] it refers to the need for moderation in one’s behaviour and manner: not to be too arrogant and not too meek.[11]

 

The Midrash Sifrei states[12] there are thirteen ways of G-d, based on the verse in Exodus: ‘Lord, Lord, benevolent G-d, Who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth, reserving loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and rebellion and sin.’ This includes various degrees of compassion, forbearance, abundant kindness, truthfulness and forgiveness. Further descriptions of G-d’s attributes, found in the Midrash,[13] are based on Psalms,[14] whereby G-d is called, in addition to compassionate (rachum) and graceful (chanun), also righteous (tzaddik) and kind (chassid).

 

Rabbi Moses Cordovero (1522-1570) also mentions[15] thirteen attributes, including: forbearance in the face of an insult, patience in enduring evil, pardon, identification with the other, absence of anger, compassion, removal of vengefulness, forgetting suffering inflicted by others, compassion for the suffering without judging them, truthfulness, compassion beyond the letter of law, assisting the wicked without being judgemental, and remembering all humans beings always in the innocence of their infancy.[16] These attributes are derived from the verse in Micah:[17] ‘Who is a G-d like You, Who forgives iniquity and passes over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not maintain His anger forever, for He desires loving-kindness. He shall return and grant us compassion; He shall hide our iniquities, and You shall cast into the depths of the sea all their sins. You shall give the truth of Jacob, the loving-kindness of Abraham, which You swore to our forefathers from days of yore.’

 

Rashi – three behaviours

 

In this essay we will explore the view of Rashi as to what is meant by the idea of following G-d’s ways. Deuteronomy states:[18] ‘You shall follow the Lord, your G-d, fear Him, keep His commandments, heed His voice, worship Him, and cleave to Him. Rashi, in his commentary,[19] ignores the commentary of the Midrash Sifrei[20] that ‘cleave to Him’ refers to the negation of idolatry, and comments: ‘Cleave to His ways: bestow kindness, bury the dead, and visit the sick, just as the Holy One, blessed is He, did.’ Rashi, thus, appears to interpret ‘cleave to Him’ as referring to only three behaviours: ‘bestow kindness, bury the dead, and visit the sick.’

 

Talmudic source

 

This interpretation follows the Talmud that states:[21]

 

And Rabbi Ḥama, son of Rabbi Ḥanina, says: What is the meaning of that which is written: “After the Lord your G-d shall you walk, and Him shall you fear, and His commandments shall you keep, and unto His voice shall you hearken, and Him shall you serve, and unto Him shall you cleave”?[22] But is it actually possible for a person to follow the Divine Presence? But hasn’t it already been stated: “For the Lord your G-d is a devouring fire, a jealous G-d,”[23] and one cannot approach fire. He explains: Rather, the meaning is that one should follow the attributes of the Holy One, Blessed be He. He provides several examples. Just as He clothes the naked, as it is written: “And the Lord G-d made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin, and clothed them,”[24] so too, should you clothe the naked. Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, visits the sick, as it is written with regard to G-d’s appearing to Abraham following his circumcision: “And the Lord appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre,”[25] so too, should you visit the sick. Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, consoles mourners, as it is written: “And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed Isaac his son,”[26] so too, should you console mourners. Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, buried the dead, as it is written: “And he was buried in the valley in the land of Moab,”[27] so too, should you bury the dead.’

 

While Rashi follows the interpretation of the Talmud over the Midrash, Rashi does not follow the Talmudic commentary in its entirety: the Talmud mentions four behaviours: 1. clothe the naked, 2. visit the sick, 3. console mourners and 4. bury the dead, while Rashi only mentions three behaviours: ‘bestow kindness, bury the dead, and visit the sick.’

 

Four versions of Rashi

 

In the manuscripts of Rashi found at the Bodleian Library and Leipzeig Library there are three further versions of the comment of Rashi with subtle differences compared how it is found in the printed edition. In MS. Oppenheim 34 (1201–1225)[28] and MS. Canon. Or. 81 (1396),[29] the version of the comment of Rashi is the same as the printed version: ‘And cleave to Him: Cleave to His ways: bestow kindness, bury the dead, and visit the sick, just as the Holy One, blessed is He, did.’

 

Go in the ways of your Creator

 

In MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408)[30] it omits the detailed behaviours ‘bury the dead, visit the sick’ all together and merely states: ‘bestow kindness and go in the ways of your Creator.’ This appears to suggest that the verse refers to all four ways of G-d, as enumerated in the Talmud, including clothing the naked.

 

Cleave to His ways and bestow kindness

 

In the Leipzig Library manuscript of Rashi,[31] an additional letter ‘vav’ - the Hebrew letter denoting ‘and’ - is added between ‘cleave to His ways’ and ‘bestow kindness.’ The text states: ‘Cleave to His ways and bestow kindness.’ This suggests the word ‘bestow kindness’ is not one of the behaviours but rather an introduction to the two behaviours: ‘bury the dead, visit the sick.’

 

Visit sick, bury the dead

 

A further variants is that in MS. Michael 384 (1399)[32] the behaviours: ‘bury the dead and visit the sick’ are in the reverse order: first ‘visit the sick and then ‘bury the dead.’ This is similar to the text of the Talmud and the order how the supporting verses are found in the Torah: In Genesis G-d visited Abraham following his circumcision and in Deuteronomy G-d buried Moses.

 

In summary, the variants in the commentary of Rashi indicate three views in what the behaviours are that the Torah is referring to when it states: ‘and cleave to Him.’ In the printed edition, following the clarification of the Leipzig manuscript, there are only two behaviours that the Torah suggests one fulfils the ideal of following G-d’s ways:  ‘bury the dead, visit the sick.’[33] The versions without the clarification of the Liepzig manuscript suggests the Torah is suggesting there are three behaviours and bestowing kindness may include lending money to the needy or clothing the naked. MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408) that does not list any behaviour in detail implies the view of the Talmud that there are four (or more) behaviours.

 

Two behaviours

 

The most authentic version of the manuscripts of Rashi appears to be the Leipzig manuscript that was edited by the student of Rashi, Rabeniu Shemaye. We may argue that while the additional ‘and’ is an important clarification, it is not necessarily in contradiction with the versions of the manuscripts that does not have the word ‘and;’ it is in fact merely clarifying their meaning. It would appear, then, that the correct understanding of the text of Rashi is that the way to ‘cleave to Him’ is through the two behaviours that Rashi lists: bury the dead and visit the sick. This raises the question: why does Rashi differ from the Talmud by listing only two behaviours instead of four; what is significant about these two behaviours that they alone constitute the ideal of ‘cleave to Him?’ This question is further enforced by the fact that the source of Rashi is the text of the Talmud that lists four behaviours: clothing the naked, visiting the sick, consoling mourners and burying the dead.

 

Imitatio Dei:Beyond the letter of the law

 

One may delineate two ideas of moral behaviours in the concept of ‘Imitatio Dei’ – imitating the Divine, going in His way or cleaving to Him - in this context: the acts of loving-kindness that is a commandment from G-d and acts of loving-kindness that goes beyond any specific commandment and is included only in the notion of ‘Imitatio Dei.’[34] The Torah indeed implores acts of kindness as part of the laws of the Torah. This may be understood as Maimonides explains that the law ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ includes acts of loving-kindness to the other, including: visit the sick, comfort mourners, to prepare for a funeral, prepare a bride, accompany guests, attend to all the needs of a burial, carry a corpse on one's shoulders, walk before the bier, mourn, dig a grave, and bury the dead, and also to bring joy to a bride and groom and help them in all their needs. Maimonides states:[35]

 

It is a positive commandment of Rabbinic origin to visit the sick, comfort mourners, to prepare for a funeral, prepare a bride, accompany guests, attend to all the needs of a burial, carry a corpse on one's shoulders, walk before the bier, mourn, dig a grave, and bury the dead, and also to bring joy to a bride and groom and help them in all their needs. These are deeds of kindness that one carries out with his person that have no limit. Although all these mitzvot are of Rabbinic origin, they are included in the Scriptural commandment Leviticus 19:18: "Love your neighbour as yourself." That charge implies that whatever you would like other people to do for you, you should do for your comrade in the Torah and mitzvot.

 

Furthermore, the Torah implores us to lend money to he needy[36] and return a garment taken as collateral so the borrower will have clothes to wear at night or during the day.[37]

 

The examples of ‘bury the dead’ and ‘visit the sick’ in the case of G-d visiting Abraham and burying Moses were cases that were not necessary beyond the desire for G-d to do acts of kindness for the sake of kindness. In the case of Abraham, he was not short of potential visitors. He had a large family and followers. The same is the case with Moses, there were no shortage of people amongst the Jewish people who would have been prepared to bury him, as an act of kindness. In a case where there are others who can bury a person one is not obligated biblically to involve oneself with the burial.[38]

 

Wrong order

 

A reason for the order ‘bury the dead’ before ‘visit the sick’ may be due the fact that the Torah usually features ideas in a progressive manner: first the lenient, then the strict or first that which is easier to accomplish and then the more difficult. In the case of burying the dead, while there is effort required, there is no potential harm to the person by performing this deed. When visiting the sick, there is potential danger of disease. For this reason the order is first the less risk prone concept of burying the dead followed by the riskier activity of visiting the sick.[39] The version of manuscript that follows the reverse order is however following the text of the Talmud that chooses to follow the events as list in the Torah where the visiting of Abraham comes before the burial of Moses.

 

Conclusion

 

There are a numbers of opinions of what exactly the concept of ‘Imitatio Dei’ – cleave to His ways - in the Torah consists of. The Talmud suggests there are four activities, clothe the naked, visit the sick, console mourners and bury. The Midrash adds matching a pair for marriage and the Midrash and Rabbi Moses Cordovero state thirteen attributes. Rashi however in one text in Deuteronomy suggests only two – bury the dead and visit the sick. This understating of Rashi’s commentary is based on  the printed version, found in some of the manuscripts, following the clarification of the text found in the Leipzig Library. In this context we showed variants of Rashi’s commentary whereby all four attributes may be implied. We argued that a reason for the minimalist approach that consists of only two behaviours maybe due to the delineation of two categories of ‘Imitatio Dei’ in the context of the Torah: a. imitating G-d’s ways that follows the laws of the Torah and b. G-d’s ways that are beyond the letter of the law. In the manner of the latter, Rashi highlights only two behaviours where we find in the Torah the ideal of G-d acting within the Torah beyond the requirements of the law itself. This is the case with burying Moses (or Aaron) where this would have been possible by the Jewish people themselves but G-d performs this kindness for Moses and visiting Abraham after his circumcision whereby there were no shortage of potential visitors but G-d chose to perform this kindness Himself.

 

 


 

[1] Deuteronomy 13:5.

[2] Sifrei (Re’eh 85) comments that ‘cleave to Him’ in this verse refers to the negation of idolatry and to only serve G-d. https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=20318&st=&pgnum=71.

[3] Deuteronomy 11:22.

[4] Rashi: to walk in all His ways: G-d is merciful, so you, too, be merciful; He bestows loving-kindness, so you, too, bestow loving-kindness. [Sifrei] ‘and to cleave to Him:’ Is it possible to say this? Is G-d not “a consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24)? Rather, it means: Cleave to the disciples and the Sages, and I will consider it as though you cleave to Me. [Sifrei]

[5] Deuteronomy 10:20. Rashi comments: ‘You shall fear the Lord, your G-d: and worship Him and cleave to Him. After you have all these qualities, then you may swear by His Name.’

[6] Deuteronomy 28:9. Maimonides writes in the Book of the Mitzvot, positive commandment six: To cling to Him, as [Deuteronomy 10:20] states: "And you shall cling to Him;" positive commandment eight: ‘To emulate His good and just ways, as [Deuteronomy 28:9] states: "And you shall walk in His ways."’

[7] Talmud Sotah 14a: And Rabbi Ḥama, son of Rabbi Ḥanina, says: What is the meaning of that which is written: “After the Lord your G-d shall you walk, and Him shall you fear, and His commandments shall you keep, and unto His voice shall you hearken, and Him shall you serve, and unto Him shall you cleave”?[7] But is it actually possible for a person to follow the Divine Presence? But hasn’t it already been stated: “For the Lord your G-d is a devouring fire, a jealous G-d” (Deuteronomy 4:24), and one cannot approach fire. He explains: Rather, the meaning is that one should follow the attributes of the Holy One, Blessed be He. He provides several examples. Just as He clothes the naked, as it is written: “And the Lord G-d made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21), so too, should you clothe the naked. Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, visits the sick, as it is written with regard to G-d’s appearing to Abraham following his circumcision: “And the Lord appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre” (Genesis 18:1), so too, should you visit the sick. Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, consoles mourners, as it is written: “And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed Isaac his son” (Genesis 25:11), so too, should you console mourners. Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, buried the dead, as it is written: “And he was buried in the valley in the land of Moab” (Deuteronomy 34:6), so too, should you bury the dead.

[8] In the Sifrei, there is a view that the fact that the verse does not state who buried Moses, it means not that G-d buried Moses but rather that Moses buried himself. Chidushe Halachot on Sotah 14a.

[9] Otzar Midrashim, Chuppah of Eliyahu, Chuppat Eliyahu Rabbah 193. This fifth attribute is drawn from Genesis 2:22: ‘And the Lord God built the side that He had taken from man into a woman, and He brought her to man.’

[10] Mishneh Torah, Human Dispositions 1:5: One who controls himself with increased restrictions, and distances himself even from the mean tendency, a little one way or a little the other way, is called devout. How may one do it? One who will distance himself from the extreme point of arrogance and become exceedingly humble is called devout for, this is the tendency of piety. If one distances himself to the mean point only and practices meekness he is called a wise man for, this is the tendency of wisdom. A like pathway exists in all the rest of the tendencies. The ancient devotees diverged their tendencies from the middle-path facing the two extremes; some tendency they bent opposite to the last extreme and some tendency they bent opposite the first extreme. This is more than being within the limits of the law.As for us, we are charged to walk in these middle-paths, which are the good and straight paths, even as it is said: "And thou shalt walk in His ways" (Deut. 28 9).

[11] According to Maimonides, the acts of kindness mentioned in the Talmud are derived from Leviticus 19:18: Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Maimonides writes (Mishneh Torah, Laws of mourning 14:1): It is a positive commandment of Rabbinic origin to visit the sick, comfort mourners, to prepare for a funeral, prepare a bride, accompany guests, attend to all the needs of a burial, carry a corpse on one's shoulders, walk before the bier, mourn, dig a grave, and bury the dead, and also to bring joy to a bride and groom and help them in all their needs. These are deeds of kindness that one carries out with his person that have no limit. Although all these mitzvot are of Rabbinic origin, they are included in the Scriptural commandment Leviticus 19:18: "Love your neighbour as yourself." That charge implies that whatever you would like other people to do for you, you should do for your comrade in the Torah and mitzvot.

[12] Sifrei Ekev 49:1: (Deuteronomy 11:22) "to walk in His ways": Which are the ways of the Holy One Blessed be He? (Exodus 34:6-7) "The L-rd, the L-rd, G-d of mercy and grace, slow to wrath and abundant in mercy and truth, keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving transgression, offense, and sin, and cleansing …" And it is written (Joel 3:5) "All who will be called by the name of the L-rd will escape": Now how is it possible for a man to be called by the name of the Holy One Blessed be He? But, (the intent is) just as the L-rd is called "merciful and gracious," you, too, be merciful and gracious, and give gratuitously to all. Just as the Holy One Blessed be He is called "righteous," viz. (Psalms 145:17) "Righteous is the L-rd in all His ways and saintly in all His acts" — you, too, be righteous. Just as the Holy One Blessed be He is called "saintly," — you, too, be saintly. This is the intent of "All who will be called by the name of the L-rd will escape." And it is written (Isaiah 43:7) "… everyone that is called by My name. For My honour I have created him, and formed him, and fashioned him." And it is written (Proverbs 16:4) "The L-rd has created all for His sake." (Deuteronomy, Ibid.). https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=20318&st=&pgnum=49.

[13] Sifrei Ekev 49.

[14] Psalms 145:17: ‘The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds.’

[15] Tomer Devorah.

[16] See: https://www.never-hurry.com/13-attributes.html. https://www.arachim.org/ArticleDetail.asp?ArticleID=14261.

[17] Micah 7:18-20.

[18] Deuteronomy 13:5.

[19] Deuteronomy 13:5.

[20] Sifrei Re’eh (85) comments that ‘cleave to Him’ in this verse refers to the negation of idolatry and to only serve G-d. https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=20318&st=&pgnum=71.

[21] Talmud Sotah 14a.

[22] Deuteronomy 13:5.

[23] Deuteronomy 4:24.

[24] Genesis 3:21.

[25] Genesis 18:1.

[26] Genesis 25:11.

[27] Deuteronomy 34:6.

[28] Fol. 104.

[29] Fol. 169.

[30] Fol. 96.

[31] https://alhatorah.org/Commentators:Rashi_Leipzig_1/Devarim_13.

[32] Fol. 126.

[33] Likkutei Sichot 14:60 argues this without reference to the Leipzig manuscript. See footnote 41.

[34] Likkutei Sichot 14:57-59.

[35] Mishneh Torah, Laws of mourning 14:1.

[36] Exodus 22:24.

[37] Exodus 22:25.

[38] Lev Sameach on Sefer Hamitzvot l’haRambam, shoresh 1. Likkutei Sichot 14:58, footnote 29. In Likkutei Sichot (ibid) it argues that the burial Rashi refers to is not of Moses, as this is only discussed later in the book of Deuteronomy, but the burial of Aaron, that has already been discussed in Deuteronomy (52:6) and the Torah implies in Numbers (20:28) the burial was conducted by G-d, whereas Moses’ burial, according to one opinion in the Sifrei was by Moses himself.

[39] Likkutei Sichot 14:60.

 

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