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The prophet Micah said: Micah 6:8

It has been told you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: Only to act justly [‘asot mishpat], to love mercy [ahavat chesed], and to walk humbly with your God [latzneah lechet ‘im elokecha].’

A long time ago, I heard a rabbi say: "Walk humbly with your God" means "follow halacha" -- Jewish law. This was based on the fact that the word lechet, to walk, comes from the same root as halacha. So: Justice, mercy, and halacha, in that order.

(1) Is this a correct interpretation?

(2) If so, in what sense do justice and mercy come before halacha and are different from it?

Edit added: I am still puzzled by what I heard that Rav, z"tl, say, which is not gaining traction here. Perhaps he was looking for ways to counter non-traditional voices to the effect that "only ethical commandments count"? Is he not entitled to a novel idea, even if it's an expansion (not a contradiction) of what's in the Talmud? And has any other commentator noticed that the same root is used as the root for the word "halacha"?

  • Halacha is not only mishpat. The Rav perhaps used the drasha אל תקרא הליכות אלא הלכות – kouty Dec 11 '19 at 20:31
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To "walk" with G-d always means to follow the Torah which is likened to a path which one walks on (Proverbs 15:10). To act justly and to love kindness are not actually mitzvot. There's no commandment to love chesed or kindness. There's no commandment to be just. So the prophet is relaying an important message that wasn't revealed at Sinai. That these three things, to act justly, to love kindness, and to follow the Torah with humility are what G-d wants.

I wouldn't read more into it and say that they are relayed in order of importance. All are equally important as life would never require you to choose one over another. You could do all three at all times.

  • Welcome to MiYodeya Benny and thanks for this first question. Can I recommend you take the tour to get a sense of how the site works? Great to have you learn with us! – mbloch Dec 7 '19 at 18:37
  • Small correction: I would add that in Genesis 6:9, Noah is described as a man who “walked with G-d.” Rabbi Nehemiah thinks this means that Noah relied on G-d. G-d does not want this. People should not rely on G-d to perform a miracle; people should rely on themselves. Thus, Noah deserves little credit for his righteousness as he required assistance throughout his life. – Turk Hill Dec 8 '19 at 0:11
  • Abraham, Rabbi Nehemiah says, was better. Genesis 17:1 describes him as one who walks “before Me [G-d].” Abraham, says Rabbi Nehemiah, was one who precedes G-d as if holding a lantern showing the way, setting an example for the people on how to behave. (This is, of course, metaphorical, but the point is certainly there). – Turk Hill Dec 8 '19 at 0:11
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According to the gemara (Sukkah 49b, translation and interl), this clause refers to interpersonal mitzvos.

והיינו דא"ר אלעזר מאי דכתיב (מיכה ו, ח) הגיד לך אדם מה טוב ומה ה' דורש ממך כי אם עשות משפט ואהבת חסד והצנע לכת עם אלהיך עשות משפט זה הדין ואהבת חסד זו גמילות חסדים והצנע לכת עם אלהיך זו הוצאת המת והכנסת כלה לחופה והלא דברים ק"ו ומה דברים שדרכן לעשותן בפרהסיא אמרה תורה הצנע לכת דברים שדרכן לעשותן בצנעא על אחת כמה וכמה

And this is what Rabbi Elazar said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “It has been told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord does require of you; only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)? “To do justly”; this is justice. “To love mercy”; this is acts of kindness. “To walk humbly with your God”; this is referring to taking the indigent dead out for burial and accompanying a poor bride to her wedding canopy, both of which must be performed without fanfare. The Gemara summarizes: And are these matters not inferred a fortiori? If, with regard to matters that tend to be conducted in public, as the multitudes participate in funerals and weddings, the Torah says: Walk humbly, then in matters that tend to be conducted in private, e.g., giving charity and studying Torah, all the more so should they be conducted privately.

To answer your second question, I wrote a book on the topic (Widen Your Tent, Mosaica, 2019), based on Rav Shimon Shkop's wordview as described in his introduction to Shaarei Yosher.

Here are Rav Shimon's opening words:

יתברך הבורא ויתעלה היוצר שבראנו בצלמו ובדמות תבניתו, וחיי עולם נטע בתוכנו שיהיה אדיר חפצנו, להיטיב עם זולתנו, ליחיד ולרבים בהוה ובעתיד בדמות הבורא כביכול.

Blessed shall be the Creator, and exalted shall be the Maker, Who created us in His “Image” and in the likeness of His “Structure,” and planted eternal life within us, so that our greatest desire should be to benefit others, to individuals and to the masses, now and in the future in imitation of the Creator (so to speak).

(Translation from Widen Your Tent, pg 45, also available here.)

This justifies much of halakhah, like respecting elders, property laws, etc... Hashem gives us the rules that only His Wisdom can be sure would be of real benefit as opposed to what we think is beneficial, to the as many people as possible in a given situation. But the role of ritual halakhos requires further explanation.

Rav Shimon continues by defining qedushah, holiness, as consecrated to Hashem's purpose to benefit others. And rest and recreation have a place in a holy life:

והנה כשהאדם מישר הליכותיו ושואף שתמיד יהיו דרכי חייו מוקדשים להכלל ,אז כל מה שעושה גם לעצמו להבראת גופו ונפשו הוא מתיחס גם כן אל מצות קדושה, שעל ידי זה יטיב גם לרבים...

Behold, when a person straightens his path and strives constantly to make his lifestyle dedicated to the community, then anything he does even for himself, for the health of his body and soul, he also associates to the mitzvah of being holy. For through this he can also benefit the masses. (pg 48)

Finally, the role of mitzvos bein adam laMaqom, those between a person and Hashem, as explained in the same terms:

ועל פי דרך זה ענין מצוה של פרישות הוא תמצית מיסוד מצות קדושה, הנכרת בפועל בדרכי ההנהגה של האדם, אבל ברעיון ושאיפת הרוח מתרחבת מצוה, זו גם על כל מפעליו ומעשיו של האדם גם בינו לבין המקום

And based on what we have explained, the thesis of the mitzvah of avoidance is essentially the same as the underlying basis of the mitzvah of holiness, which is practically recognizable in the ways a person acts. But with insight and the calling of spirituality, this mitzvah broadens to include everything a person causes or does even between him and the Omnipresent. (pg 49)

My taking an esrog or putting on tefillin is only qadosh because I need that spiritual nourishment to be capable of being of maximal benefit to others

  1. for my own sanity,
  2. to have the necessary discipline to make holy choices rather than those driven by desire and ego, and
  3. to know what Hashem's Good looks like, rather than trying to figure out what would benefit others without their Maker's input.
  • I know that gemara in Sukkah, but does it imply that the answer to my first question is " no", and that that rabbi I heard was wrong? – Maurice Mizrahi Dec 9 '19 at 17:47
  • Another interpretation that I just thought of: justice and mercy refer to the ethical commandments only. The last part refers to the ritual commandments, which are independent of justice and mercy. What do you think? – Maurice Mizrahi Dec 9 '19 at 17:50
  • @MauriceMizrahiL I think it makes that interpretation less likely to be correct. But I don't have encylopedic knowledge. It could be that another interpreter, one whose opinion carries the same kind of gravitas as R Elazar does give the interpretation you heard. But I think my data point makes that much less likely. – Micha Berger Dec 9 '19 at 20:09
  • R Elazar offers an interpretation that is awfully narrow for such a general injunction, and may not have been intended to be exclusive. – Maurice Mizrahi Dec 9 '19 at 20:51
  • @MauriceMizrahi: how is an injunction that when one pursues justice and lovingkindness one should do so in the company of G-d rather than one's ego limited? Is it because R Elazar says so by focusing on two extreme cases and then saying "all the more so kindness normally not done as publicly"? By the way, the quote comes from the discussion of R Simlai saying that Micha here is summing up all 613. But R Simlai has other statements that indicate his Judaism was focused on the interpersonal. – Micha Berger Dec 10 '19 at 0:39

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