003 The Rambam’s Understanding of Good Middos

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In our previous video, The Surprising Reason Sefer Bereishis was Written, we discovered the Bartenura and Ralbag both point to the importance of working on one’s middos. The Bartenura stated that our ethical conduct is from Har Sinai, just like any other of halachah, and the Ralbag explained that the stories written in the Chumash are there for us to learn lessons in how to act, towards Hashem, and towards people.

Nevertheless, we were still stymied — the Chayei Adam, in “The Amazing Chiddush of the Chayei Adam, stated that if one were faced with a choice, to be a yarei shomayim, or a talmid chochom, one should choose the former. Even with the Bartenura and Ralbag’s stress on the importance of middos, what source does the Chayei Adam have for such a bold statement?

A good place to look would be the Rambam. In his Hilchos De’os, the Rambam states that one is required to choose the ‘middle path’ in one’s middos. If one goes too far, they are either acting beyond the letter of the law, or not doing what is required of them.

What law, though, is the Rambam invoking? He refers us to a passuk in Devarim, “יְקִימְךָ ד’ לוֹ לְעַם קָדוֹשׁ כַּאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע־לָךְ כִּי תִשְׁמֹר אֶת־מִצְוֺת ד’ אֱלֹקיךָ וְהָלַכְתָּ בִּדְרָכָיו.” The idea of ‘Following Hashem’s ways’ is to follow in His middos. Like He is merciful, so too we should be merciful, and so on.

The Rambam also includes this in his list of mitzvos, as the eighth of the positive commandments. Thus, we have finally found a Torah source for the requirement of good middos. However, we still haven’t answered our basic question; why is this mitzvah different from all of the other mitzvos? Why does the Chayei Adam state that, if one were forced to choose, yiras shomayim trumps actually knowing what the Torah requires of us? Perhaps we’ll find out in our next video, “The Minchas Chinuch’s Hopeful Prayer.