Imitating G-d — Be Holy for I Am Holy

There are three pesuqim in which our rabbis find a source for the duty of imatatio Dei, emulating G-d, or at least — emulating the examples He shows us.

1- Zeh Keili veAnveihu

אַבָּא שָׁאוּל אוֹמֵר: ״[זֶ֤ה קֵלִי֙] וְאַנְוֵ֔הוּ״ — הֱוֵי דּוֹמֶה לוֹ, מָה הוּא חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם — אַף אַתָּה הֱיֵה חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם.

Abba Shaul said “[This is my G-d] and I will glorify Him [ve’anveihu]” (Shemos 15:2) — become like Him. Just as He is gracious and Compassionate — so to you should be gracious and compassionate. (Shabbos 133b)

2- VeHalakhta biDrakhav

The Rambam writes in Seifer haMitzvos, asei #8:

היא שצונו להדמות בו יתעלה כפי היכולת והוא אמרו והלכת בדרכיו. וכבר נכפל זה הצווי ואמר ללכת בכל דרכיו ובא בפירוש (סוטה י”ד) מה הקב”ה נקרא חנון אף אתה היה חנון מה הקב”ה נקרא רחום אף אתה היה רחום מה הקב”ה נקרא חסיד אף אתה היה חסיד. וכבר נכפל זה הענין בלשון אחר ואמר אחרי ה’ תלכו ובא בפירוש שרצה לומר ההדמות בפעולותיו הטובות והמדות הנכבדות שיתואר בהם האל יתעלה על צד המשל. יתעלה על הכל עילוי רב. (בפרשת והיה כי תבא, מדע הלכות דעות):

That is that He commanded us to imitate Him, may He be exalted, according to our ability. And that is His saying, “and you shall go in His ways” (Deuteronomy 28:9). And this command has already been repeated, [when] He said, “and to go in all of His ways” (Deuteronomy 11:22). And in the explanation, it appears (Sifrei Devarim 49:1), “Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, is called merciful; you too, be merciful. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, is called pious; you too, be pious.” And this matter was already repeated in different words: He said, “Go in the ways of the Lord.” And in the explanation, it appears (Sotah 14a) that He meant to say to imitate His good deeds and glorious traits by which God, may He be exalted, is described, by way of analogy – He is exalted over everything with great exaltation.

Rav Itzele Blazer points out a significant difference between the treatment of these two verses. Ve‘anveihu speaks of who you are, As some elaborate, Abba Sha’ul is idenfying the word as a contraction of “ani vehu – I and He.” Whereas vehalakha bidrakhav obligates specific behaviors.

3- Qedoshim Tihyu

But there is a third text, cited also by the Ranban (Moreh Nevuchim 1:54l tr. Friedlander 1903):

For the chief aim of man should be to make himself, as far as possible, similar to God: that is to say, to make his acts similar to the acts of God, or as our Sages expressed it in explaining the verse, “Ye shall be holy” (Lev. 19:2): “He is Gracious, so be you also gracious: He is Merciful, so be you also merciful.”

The title pasuq of parashas Qedoshim (Vayiqra 19:2):

קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י

Be holy for I Am Holy

Rav Shimon Shkop opens his introduction to Shaarei Yosher with an analysis of the obligations of the latter two pesuqim — vehalakha bidrakhav and qedhoshim tihyu (translation mine, from Widen Your Tent ch. 1 (Mosaica Press, 2019):

… For everything He created and formed was according to His Will (may it be blessed), [that is] only to be good to the creations. So too His Will is that we walk in His ways. As it says “vehalakhta bidrakhav” – that we, the select of what He made – should constantly hold as our purpose to sanctify our physical and spiritual powers for the good of the many, according to our abilities.

In my opinion, this whole concept is included in Hashem’s mitzvah “Qedoshim tihyu -Be holy, [for I am Holy].” The Midrash (Leviticus, Emor, ch. 24) says about this verse: “Can it [truly] be ‘Like Me?’ This is why it continues, ‘ki Qdosh Ani – for I am Holy’ to teach that My Sanctity is above yours.” And about the foundation of this mitzvah of sanctity the Toras Kohanim has “qedoshim tihyu – perushim tihyu, ‘be holy’ – be separate”. The Ramban, in his commentary on the Torah, explains at length this notion of separation …

But Rav Shimon continues by addressing the Sifra that says “qedoshim tihyu – perushim tihyu, ‘be holy’ – be separate”. and the Rambam’s elabration on it.

He argues that this idea of separation cannot be not the actual definition of holiness. “If we say that the essential idea of the holiness He demands of us (in this mitzvah of ‘qedoshim tihyu‘) is distance from the permissible, this kind of holiness has nothing to do with Him.”

Rather, qedushah means “consecration”, commitment to a given goal. In this case, to partnering with Hashem to be good to others. The Sifra is saying that the mitzvah to consecrate oneself requires separation from distracting goals. Not that Hashem would need such separation to be fully “Committed”. And all our self-care, our entertainment, even our mitzvos between us and Hashem can only derive holiness to the extent that we use them to commit to being of benefit to the other.

This gives a third domain of emulation:

  1. ve’anveihu – being, i.e. emulating the character Hashem shows us,
  2. vehalakhta bidrakhav – doing, acting in the ways He Does
  3. qedoshim tinyu – commitment

In the berakhah of Sim Shalom we thank Hashem for giving us ahavas chessed. Not “just” that we have a measure of lovingkindness, not that we push ourselves to act kindly even beyond what comes naturally, but that we love the middah of chessed and try to grow it within ourselves.

That is the self-consecration of “qedoshim tihyu“.

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