“The Eternal will establish you for Himself as a holy people, just as He swore to you, if you keep the commandments of The Eternal, your G-d, and follow His ways.” (Devarim 28:9)
The eighth mitzvah with which we were commanded is to endeavor to emulate Him, as it is written: “…and follow His ways.”
This verse gives us a huge insight on how we should conduct ourselves regarding our behavior and the fulfillment of our mitzvot as a whole. All of mitzvots are called “the ways of G-d,” not only because G-d commanded us to follow them, but because He Himself follows them too. Chazal teach that the Holy One, blessed be He, fulfills all the mitzvots as it were. And they interpret the verse: “He relates His words to Yaakov,”(Tehillim 147:19), commenting: “What He does, He tells Israel to do and observe.” (Shmos Rabba 30:9). As the Talmud states: “The Holy One, blessed be He, puts on tefillin; The Holy One, Blessed be He, prays; etc..” (Berachos 6a).
Thus the mitzvots are all G-d’s ways and as the Zohar expounds: “The ways of G-d are just,” as implying that the Torah in his entirety is “the ways of G-d.” (Hoshea 14:10)
It can be added that: “follow His ways,” refers to the excellence in mitzvots as a whole. The quality and intention behind the way in which a person fulfills his obligations. As the Rambam writes: “We were commanded to show mercy, charity, and kindness, as implied in the verse: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself ‘”(Sefer HaMitzvos,General Principle 9). To borrow the Rambam’s wording in General Principle 4: “G-d did not command us to perform anything more than what we had known already.”
Similar concepts are stated by Rambam with regard to visiting the sick, comforting mourners, and burying the dead. These are all acts that reflect G-d’s attributes. Thus in tractate Sotah it says: “Follow after G-d, your L-rd,” meaning that we should emulate the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He. He visited the sick, so you should too. He comforts the mourners, so you should too. He buried the dead, so you should too. In this context, Rambam states: “All of these acts and other similar ones are included in one mitzvah… ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Sefer HaMitzvos, General Principle 2)
Rav Avraham, the Rambam’s son, adds that “the mitzvots refer to the observance of deeds, while ‘ following G-d’s ways’ refers to qualities dependent on our emotional characteristics.” In other words, not only should we perform acts of love and kindness, but we should also feel love within our hearts. Delving deeper into the commandment of “Love your neighbor as yourself,” mandates not only to treat others in a brotherly manner, but one should also love him – as in having feelings in his heart. And when a person has feelings of love in his heart, he will naturally be aroused to feelings of mercy, and so on.
The ultimate fulfillment of man is to emulate G-d according to his potential. The Rambam maintains: “This is the ultimate perfection of human conduct, to perform these actions in the appropriate measure and in relation to the appropriate people, not simply as a result of emotional arousal… All emotional arousal is undesirable.” This applies specially in regard to punishment. When punishing someone it must be done without any feeling of anger. Acts of mercy and forgiveness must excessively outweigh the acts of retribution. In Rambam’s own words : “To emulate Him, may He be exalted, according to our potential.” “Following His ways” is not merely a command that binds us to conduct ourselves in the way we behave with mercy, compassion, and the like, as understood in Sefer HaChinuch, but rather a command to emulate Him according to our capacities with the sole intention and purpose of emulating H”S, our Creator and revealing Him through our actions.
Rambam explains that halacha (Jewish law) mandates that a person should train himself in these character traits or midos that resemble G-d’s ways. He concludes: “Since the Creator is called by these names :’compassionate, merciful, just, etc..” This proper conduct is known as “the middle path” that we are obligated to follow, this path is called “the way of G-d.”
All of G-d’s attributes are ways of expression that do not result from emotional arousal. These modes of expression emanate from Him, therefore they are part of His way to relate to the world. These attributes, as said before, emanate from him, as such they don’t create any change in G-d. Instead, because these attributes emanate from Him without emotional arousal, they are truly good and just paths. At the same time, H”S gave us too these 10 ways of expression or powers of the soul (Sefirot), this is so we can emulate Him and by doing this we attach ourselves to G-d.
When a person is able to arouse within him these emotional attributes and use them emulating G-d, he will be able to conduct himself in the good and just paths which reflect the adjectives used to describe G-d. When a person has the intent to reflect G-d in his actions, he has acquired the middle path, which reflect the true positive dimension of the emotional attributes as they are expressed by G-d. As the Rambam states: “as is appropriate.” There are times when we need to be merciful and there are times when we need to act with restrain towards others.
According to Chassidus, every soul is an actual spark of G-d from Above, it is an emanation of H”S. From this it can be understood that the soul itself is utterly unbounded. It is only that its expression in the body is limited. When a person is aroused to Divine service from the essence of his soul, this lifts him up and brings about an unlimited ascent. In simple terms, he has such an infinite degree of vitality in his Divine service that he is motivated to a level of self-sacrifice.
This is the intent of the command to “follow His paths,” “to emulate Him…according to our potential.” What this means is that we all have infinite potential in our devotion to G-d. The amount of mitzvahs is limited, but the way in which we perform them is limitless.
Excerpts taken from “A Knowing Heart:Parshas Ki Savo”
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
(Adapted from the Sichos of Shabbos Parshas Vayechi, 5741)