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.