THE IMITATION OF HASHEM
Taken from Pachad Yitzchak by Rav Yitzchak Hutner.
In the second verse of the Song at the Sea, Bnei Yisrael sing "Zeh Keli v'anveihu, Elokei avi va'aromimenhu" - this is my God and I will glorify Him, the God of my father and I will exalt him. The Sages pick up on the word "this," seemingly to imply that the Jews had a very direct revelation at the Red Sea. They thus claim that even the simplest maidservant saw more at the time of the splitting of the sea than even the prophet Yechezkel (Ezekiel) saw in all of his prophesies.
As beautiful and powerful as this statement is, it presents us with a problem? Why is Yechezkel selected as the model prophet for the Jews to be compared to at this juncture? Granted, he had the vision of the Divine Chariot (ma'aseh merkavah), but Yeshayahu (Isaiah) had one as well (see Yechezkel Chapter 1 and Yeshayahu Chapter 6). Even further, the gemara tells us that the vision of Yeshayahu was on a higher level than that of Yechezkel! If this is true, what is it about the vision of Yechezkel that makes it a worthy comparison to the revelation at the Red Sea?
To understand the words of the Sages, we must begin withRambam, in Hilchot Yesodei Ha-Torah 1:7. There he writes: "We learn this commandment explicitly that just as He (Hashem) is called merciful, so too you should be merciful...and since these are names by which the Creator is called and they represent the Golden Mean that we are enjoined to follow they are called 'The Way of Hashem' and this is the 'Way of Hashem' that is said by Avraham (Genesis 18:19)." What emerges from this statement of Rambam is that "The Way of Hashem" is not the path that Hashem wants us to take with our own lives, but rather the manner in which He Himself acts. Under that level, we find a second level, namely that the entire foundation of the belovedness of Avraham was his fulfillment of this idea of walking in the ways of Hashem. As this idea became one of the 613 commandments once the Torah was given, the question arises as to why this commandment above all others was singled out as the cornerstone of the love that Hashem had for Avraham?
The answer to this question is hidden in the roots of what walking in the ways of Hashem actually means. Taking an example from daily life, Reuven may desire to imitate the mannerisms and actions of Shimon, but that desire remains existent in Reuven alone, and does not find an analogous desire in Shimon. What results is that Reuven may succeed in emulating Shimon, but his desire itself does not become part of that emulation, rather the motivation for it. By contrast, one who strives to imitate Hashem, succeeds in doing so merely by his desire to do so. How is this so? As it were, Hashem, also wants to imitate man [editor's note: see, for example, the gemara in Menachot about what is written, as it were, in the Tefillin of Hashem]. This is the attribute of Hashem that we refer to when we speak about "midda k'neged midda" - measure for measure. Parallel to every attribute of human is a similar one found in Hashem. As such, one who wants to be like Hashem, has already achieved some degree of success by his mere wanting to do so.
Given this idea, the desire to achieve a level of imitatio Dei is wholly different from the desire to do any other commandment. One who wants to put on Tefillin has done nothing until he acquires a pair of Tefillin and puts them on. By contrast, one who wants to walk in the ways of Hashem has already taken a very concrete step towards fully fulfilling that commandment.
However, we can extend this idea even further. The gemara in Pesachim 118a tells us that the 26 verses of Tehillim 136 that end with the phrase "ki l'olam chasdo" - His kindness is forever - correspond to the twenty-six generations that the world existed before the Torah was given, whereby Hashem sustained the world purely out of His kindness. This is not to imply that Hashem's kindness diminished when He gave the Torah, but rather that it took on a different form. Before the Torah was given, Hashem dispensed random acts of kindness to the world. A person can provide for another person in two ways: he can give him what he needs, or he can provide him with a mechanism by which he will be able to provide for himself. While the first approach seems to be on a higher level at first glance, a closer look reveals that the latter method is more lasting and runs deeper, and thus is a higher level of kindness. Thus, for twenty-six generations Hashem provided the world with what it needed in a relatively shallow manner - on one act connected to any other. When Hashem gave the Torah to the Jews, His kindness deepened tremendously, and was raised to a level of "chessed mishpat" - a combination of kindness with justice. From that point on, each generation was linked to each other with regard to Hashem's kindnesses. As such, there is no longer a need to say "ki l'olam chasdo" for each generation, since the generations were no longer separate from one another in this regard.
It now becomes clear that the behavior associated with "midda k'neged midda" is not that of random acts of kindness. Only when Hashem bestows his beneficence upon us as a response to our requests (as per the ways of justice) can we speak about His actions being "midda k'neged midda." However, when He acts kindly without any specific motivation for doing so, we cannot make the same assertion, and the inherent bond between Creator and created cannot be said to exist in such actions.
The same holds true in the other direction, namely that only through our actions and our performances of the mitzvot can we create a situation of "midda k'neged midda." Thus, the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah stand as key events in the transition from Hashem's treatment of His world through random acts of kindness to his dealing with His creatures through a just kindness.
We can now begin to understand why this commandment of walking in the ways of Hashem is the foundation-stone of Hashem's love for Avraham. We know that the actions of the Forefathers serve as harbingers of those of their descendants (see the first lines ofRamban's commentary to Shemot), and thus that Jewish history is rooted in and guided by the actions of the Forefathers. As Jewish history begins with this transition from random kindness to "just kindness," it is that aspect of Avraham which is highlighted as well, since a truly loving father seeks to excel in those things that will bring out and focus one's attention on those elements of his son that makes up his essence. It is this emulation of Hashem that strengthens our bond with Him and is exemplified by the kindness inherent in the giving of the Torah. Thus, it is an attribute of Avraham that is fit to serve as the basis for Hashem's love for the first of the Forefathers of His chosen nation.
Once we fully understand this point, we can appreciate the statement of the Sages that the word "v'anveihu" is a combination of "ani v'hu" - Me and Him, a statement that identifies the speaker with the object of his words. However, this raises the question why specifically in the Song at the Sea the Jews chose to make this proclamation, identifying themselves with Hashem. Why is this idea of walking in the ways of Hashem included at a time of the downfall of the wicked, something that we do not find by any other similar situation!?
However, we can see that this was, in fact, the perfect time for such a statement to be made. This stems from the fact that the entire concept of "midda k'neged midda" as we have explained it here began at the time of the splitting of the Red Sea. As we have noted, this attribute defines the Jewish people and their relationship to Hashem, in stark contrast to the twenty-six generations that preceded their existence as a nation. The splitting of the Sea served as the end of the Exodus, and thus the beginning of the nation-status of the Jewish people. As such, it was at this moment that the entire concept of the created striving to be live their creator came into effect, and thus it was at this moment that they could first make a statement that would identify themselves with Hashem.
We can now return to our original question concerning Yechezkel. What is it about his prophesies that makes him an appropriate model in this context? Among the things that he saw in his vision of the Divine Chariot was the countenance of a man. While we are unable to fully grasp the meaning of this entire vision, we can nevertheless see in this vision this idea of "midda k'neged midda." Just as man strives to be like Hashem, so too does Hashem have on his throne an image of a man, symbolizing his desire to be, as it were, like us. Thus, that which Bnei Yisrael saw at the moment of their becoming a nation and realizing this level of relationship to Hashem can be compared to, and be said to surpass, the visions of Yechezkel which also revealed this attribute of Hashem.
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