I was studying Heschel’s book, Heavenly Torah, with my rabbi. And the question was asked, is there one general principle that all the mitzvot serve?

For example, Hillel’s famous statement that the enitre Torah is nothing but a commentary on Leviticus 19:18 – “Love your neighbor as yourself”, is in a sense an attempt to apply a general
principle that all the mitzvot (commandments) serve.

Heschel comments on this by saying “Such an example can be used as an general principle underlying the mitzvot that deal with relationships between people, but what about the commandments between us and God?

For example, what about the commandments contained in the Shema, – teaching the words to our children, keeping them on our gates and doorposts. Can we really look to “love your
neighbor” as a general underlying principle for these principle for their existence?



I think there is a better candidate for the “meta reason” behind all the commandments.

Gen. 1:27. And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Why this is my candidate for the general principle upon which all mitzvot are based?

For openers, it is gender inclusive. There can be no question that men and women were equally created in His image. The creation of man is in the male and female form. So I’m guessing
that the use of man here is the same as human or “mankind”
Beyond this, the knowledge that humans were created in God’s image results in a kind of double awareness.

(cont.) [in a few minutes]

First, there’s the awareness that every person you deal with in any way is created in God’s image, and so what you do to them you do to God.

Just as you cannot harm a child without harming the parent, you cannot harm your neighbor without harming God. Just as an act of kindness to a child is an act of kindness to his or her parents, an act of kindness to your neighbor is an act of
kindness to God.

This is similar to the jewish view, or at least a jewish view, of the hereafter. The concept that our world and the hereafter are not two distinct worlds, but are rather directly linked and intertwined, so that what we do on earth has a direct impact on heaven. From this viewpoint, we can say that each commandment exists to remind us that all acts are sacred or at least have the potential to be sacred – to effect both earth and heaven.

So the awareness that comes from understanding that everyone is created in God’s image can, I think, be a general principle for all the commandments that deal with interpersonal relationships.

There’s a second, “corallary awarness” that should flow from the understanding that we are created in God’s image. It should be self evident but because it is so obvioulsy, it is often overlooked.

It is not just the the rest of the people in our world that are created in His image. It’s us. In a real sense, we’re
commanded to acknowledge that we ourselves are created in God’s image and, because of that, we are holy. Not just our neighbors.

This type of awareness covers, I think, all the other mitzvot that do not, on their face, deal with interpersonal relationships. Because as creatures made in the image of God, each thing we do, every action, whether it is prayer, eating, work, waking up in the morning, etc., is done by a representative and as a representation of God.

One of the first things I learned when I started studying Judaism was that the mitzvot can be viewed as religious speed bumps. Commandments that demand that, throughout the day one
pause from the mundane recognize and acknowledge the sacredness of each moment. Constant reminders that there is something greater than ourselves and that we are part of
something greater than ourselves.

As a general principle being created in Hashem’s image demands
that kavanah (focus/intent/awareness) be brought into all our actions. If the mitzvoh are religious speedbumps to remind
us throughout the day of the sacredness of life, of existence, then being created in God’s image is the meta-speedbump that reminds us to bring kavanah to all the mitzvoh.


In the 71st Pslam we read “Cast me not off in the time of old age.”

I choose to see this as a plea to God not to let our world grow old. Creation is an ongoing process. God renews all creation every day. We are not just distantly created in God’s image. It is much more immediate. We are all Adams and Eves.


Shalom, Valke2. Great posts, great points well argued :thumbsup:

What we have in Christianity are the two great commandments in Matthew 22:36, from Jesus himself.

The first is actually from the Shema - ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength’. The second, which Jesus said is like it, is ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.

The putting of these two commands together gels well with many of the points you have made - that all humans are indeed made in Hashem’s image, and therefore that our first priority is to honour and protect His image in our brothers and within ourselves.


well Valke’s posts sounded mmmm Christian to me :smiley:

Hey, where do you think you guys get all your “A” material from? :slight_smile:

:wink: :smiley:

Scripture, by which we mean the Old and New Testaments, was inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16). SOURCE

In my original post I referred to Hillel’s famous statement. THinking on it, I realize “Famous” is a relevant term. So here’s one of the most well known Talmudic teachings about Hillel:

Shabbat 31 a

On another occasion it happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Thereupon he repulsed him with the builder’s rule which was in his hand [he hit the smartass with a stick]. When he went before Hillel [and asked him the same question], [Hillel] said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah. The rest is the commentary ; go and learn it.’

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