Ekev–Mitzvahs of the Heart

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,  and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I command you this day for your good?”  (Deut. 10:12-13)

Moses Hayyim Luzzatto’s Mesillat Yesharim (=Path of the Upright; Amsterdam, 1740) is an 18th century  classic of Jewish ethics and piety.    In an earlier draft of the book, found in manuscript but only recently published, Luzzatto creates a dialogue between a Hasid (a pietist) and a Hakham (a sage).*  The Hakham represents a community of Jewish learning precoccupied with Talmudic argument, homiletic Torah interpretation, and legal rulings.  Luzzatto’s Hasid uses Deut. 10:12-13 to argue for “equal time” for studies emphasizing the inner life:

“You see that the observance of all the commandments as a whole, which is the aggregate of the laws and halakhic rulings you have studied, is just one of the matters mentioned in this verse. But four more elements are mentioned there; namely, fear of God, walking in his ways, love of God, and service of the heart.

When we examine the matter closely, however, we find that the totality of the mitzvot involving actions comprise one category while the totality of the mitzvot of the heart and mind comprise another category.  Scripture, therefore, distinguishes between them. And it puts the mitzvot of the heart before the mitzvot of the limbs, as befits their relative importance.

The essence of serving God is perfecting the thoughts that accompany is one’s actions.  Scripture, however, specifies fear and love, though they belong to the general category of duties of the heart, because they are the two great pillars upon which the service of God rests. And everything else that relates to character traits and the heart scripture included by saying, “to walk in all his ways, to which our rabbis attacked the explanation: “just as He is gracious and merciful, so you too must be gracious and merciful, etc.

Then it mentions all the mitzvot involving actions as a single category. That is, “to keep the commandments of the Lord, etc.”

It thus follows that besides knowledge of how to perform the mitzvot, four additional elements must accompany the performance to complete the deed so that it is pleasing to him, blessed be He. You, however by your own admission, have occupied yourself with one while ignoring four.”

*In the final published version, Luzzatto gives similar arguments in less confrontational form.

**Loving God, fearing God, and walking in God’s ways (with the same rabbinic explanation) are all counted as mitzvahs of the Torah by Maimonides in his classic Book of the Commandments.


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