Misconceptions of the Interpersonal


A Jewish shopper was once in line at a supermarket waiting patiently in the checkout lane. In front of him ‎was an unruly child making a scene, violently kicking and screaming. The trigger was the neat rows next to ‎the store’s registers, each beautifully stacked with candy. The store’s strategy of tantalizing the desires of ‎shoppers was having an effect. The forceful mother vocally told the kid “we are not getting any, they are ‎not kosher”. This startled the Jewish shopper as the family was clearly not Jewish. “Do you keep kosher?” ‎he incredulously asked the mother. “I don’t know what kosher is,” she meekly replied, “but I see parents ‎saying it to Jewish kids and they desist, so I thought I would do the same.”‎

This amusing sketch reminds me of the following anecdote which, while witty, is not so comical. One ‎individual tried to economize on his milk purchases by buying in bulk. These large size bottles were then ‎stored in a communal fridge. Much to his chagrin, people were under the impression that these large ‎bottles of milk were owned by the institution and available for the public. After seeing his milk rapidly ‎disappearing he was quick to recognize the misunderstanding and took to labeling the bottles ‘private’ in ‎the hope people would respect that this is private property. This attempt proved futile and people still kept ‎pilfering the milk, thinking that he had appropriated public goods for his own personal use. When the ‎owner saw that people were ignoring these labels, he came up with an ingenious idea. He marked the ‎bottles ‘Chalav Stam’. This proved very successful. Unfortunately these warped people won’t think twice ‎about taking someone else property, but to drink Chalav Stam, Heaven forfend. ‎

All commandments fall into one of two categories, either between ‘man and G-d’ or ‘between man and his ‎fellowman’. Many people excel in one group while neglecting the other. For example, it is not uncommon ‎to find people who will movingly sing zemeros at night with much fervor to the consternation of their tired ‎neighbors who are trying to sleep. Others are courteous and kind individuals but are remiss in laying Tefillin ‎and keeping Shabbos. ‎

Why does such disparity arise? Shouldn’t one be equally devoted to both pursuits? How is it that one of ‎these can become glorified while the other is neglected? It would seem that people have a fundamental ‎misconception regarding the motivating factors of interpersonal relationships. Both, those that give ‎prominence to the personal duties and those that celebrate the interpersonal, lack a grasp of the driving ‎forces behind these obligations, and it is from this misunderstanding that such chasms develop. ‎

Human beings feel an urge to express their humanity; they are driven to be kind and compassionate. When ‎one is under the assumption that kindness is the premise underlying interpersonal Mitzvohs, it presents ‎people with two different opportunities: One is striving to respond to our feelings towards man. The other ‎is discharging our responsibilities towards G-d. This will naturally realize two different results depending on ‎which drive prevails stronger, the desire to fulfill G-ds will or the desire to act with compassion. It is ‎because of this erroneous foundation in understanding interpersonal Mitzvohs that there develops a ‎distorted attitude towards interactions people.‎

There is another fundamental approach to have towards Mitzvohs, which produces an equal concern for ‎these two groups. Rabbi Yaakov Kamentsky, as related by his grandson Rabbi Yitzchok Shurin, coined more ‎accurate captions that penetrated to the heart of the motivation behind these responsibilities. Rabbi ‎Kamentsky said they should be aptly called ‘between man and G-d’ and ‘between man and the form of G-d’ ‎i.e. the impetus to be compassionate towards other humans should be sourced in the recognition that ‎each person is created in the divine image. The respect and elevation with which we treat people is due to ‎their innate G-dliness. ‎

When both of these duties are rooted in the similar, we do not expect any disparity to arise in their ‎performance. Shaking a lulav on Succos is no different than helping an old lady cross the street. The ‎individual who respects Hashem, will respect the Tzelem Elokim. How can they mistreat the form of G-d ‎simultaneously with glorifying G-d Himself? ‎

Adultery, now takes on a new dimension. It is an affront to the Divine, and an affront to the Divine form of ‎Man. A woman who goes astray and has relations with someone other than her husband has ignored and ‎violated two concepts ‘G-d’ and ‘the form of G-d’.‎

‎“’Should a man’s a man’s wife go astray’ the repetition teaches that she has been doubly unfaithful: ‎against Hashem, who is known as the Man of War (Exod. 15:3), and against her husband” (Rashi Bamidbar ‎‎5:12)‎

When discussing her offensive behavior the verse chooses to refer to Hashem as a Man. This is to highlight ‎that the two instances of Man are connected. She has let-down Elokim and the Tzelem Elokim. ‎

Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Yoisef, she unabashedly approaches the seventeen year old boy and ‎Yoisef refuses. In resisting her advances he says “My master knows nothing about managing the house, all ‎he has, he has given into my hand. In this house, there is no one greater than I, and he has not withheld ‎anything from me, except you, insofar as you are his wife.” ‎

Seemingly, in attempting to drive away his master’s wife, he speaks of morality, and unfaithfulness ‎towards his employer. He explains to her that Potiphar has entrusted him with his entire wealth and ‎fortune save one entity – you – his wife. To live together is abuse of the belief assigned to me and would ‎constitute an egregious injustice Yoisef appeals to her to desist from her entreaties, because he does not ‎want to violate the trust his master has vested in him. ‎

Yoisef wraps up his speech by concluding his refusal “and how can I commit this great evil, and sin against ‎G-d?” From the context this he does not seem to be presenting an additional argument for his abstention. ‎But does a ‘sin against G-d’ sit squarely with infidelity towards man; surely it is of different genre? ‎

When one understands that interpersonal Mitvohs are between ‘man and the image of G-d’ a sin against ‎man is a sin against the image of G-d. This is what Yoisef was communicating when concluding “and how ‎can I commit this great evil, and sin against G-d?” He was trying to doubly convey how can I sin to G-d, and ‎how can I ignore his divine G-dliness. ‎

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