Ethics and Kabbalah

It is fitting that a person should become like one's Creator, for then one would be in the mystery of the Supernal Form, both in image and in likeness. For if a person were only similar in body, but not in deeds, one would be falsifying the Form, and people would say of such a person: a beautiful form, but the deeds are ugly. However, the essence of the supernal image and likeness is to be found in deeds, and what benefit does a person gain if [the body] is like the Supernal Form in the structure of its organs, but the deeds are not like those of one's Creator? Therefore, it is appropriate that one model oneself on the activity of Keter, i.e. the thirteen supreme attributes of mercy that are alluded to in these verses: 'Who is a God like You, forgiving iniquity, and passing over the transgression of the remnant of the divine inheritance. God does not keep hold of anger forever, but delights in kindness. God will again have compassion on us; God will conquer our iniquities; and You will throw all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show truth to Jacob, and love to Abraham, as You swore to our ancestors in days of old' (Micah 7:18-20).

The first is: 'Who is a God like You....' This teaches that God is a humble ruler who bears humiliation, such as cannot be imagined. Now, without doubt, nothing is hidden from God's perception; moreover, there is no moment in which humankind is not fed and sustained from the divine supernal power which pours down upon him. So, therefore, you can see that no one sins against God, unless at that precise moment God pours down upon that person the force that allows that person to exist and that person's limbs to move. And despite the fact that this person is sinning through this power, yet God does not withold it at all. Rather, the Holy Blessed One bears this humiliation in order to remain the Source of the motive power of this person's limbs, although this individual is expending that power at that moment in sin and transgression, and is provoking God to anger; yet the Holy Blessed One bears it. This is the quality that a person should practice, i.e. patience.

Moses Cordovero (1522-1570), Tomer Devorah (The Palm Tree of Deborah), chapter 1 (beginning).

It is known to be true that the essence of the Torah is to bring it to fulfilment in deed, as explained in [the Talmud] tractate Berachot chapter 2 (fol.17) 'A favourite saying of Raba was "The goal of wisdom is repentance and good deeds, so that a person should not study Torah and Mishnah and then despise his father, mother, teacher, and one greater than him in wisdom and rank, as it is said, 'The beginning of wisdom (reshit hochmah) is the reverence of the Lord; those who do them [i.e. the commandments] have sound understanding' (Psalm 111:10). It does not say 'those who study them' but 'those who do them'; to those who do them for its own sake and not to those who do not do them for its own sake. And anyone who does not do them for its own sake would have been better if he had never been created."'

Now, he repeats [the phrase] 'who do them for its own sake...,' which is apparently superfluous. However, it is to teach us that the essence of [the study of] Torah for its own sake is the Torah that a person studies in order to fulfill. And this is the [proper way to] understand this verse: When a person gives precedence to the reverence of the Lord [over] wisdom, wisdom (Hochmah) will give 'good understanding to those who do them,' for the purpose of wisdom is only the reverence of the Lord, since wisdom teaches man the ways of reverence. Then of necessity, wisdom becomes 'good understanding to those who do them,' and becomes established in them, since they studied wisdom only in order to make it a vessel for reverence, and reverence [leads to] deed. In the Zohar, Bereshit, fol.8 it says: 'Rabbi Yose says, "Good understanding" [refers to] the Tree of Life which is good understanding without any evil at all, and since no evil rests upon it is good understanding without any evil.' In this way, [this interpretation] may be combined with the preceding one: For by giving reverence precedence over wisdom, a person thus becomes worthy of attaining the Tree of Life, which is good understanding without evil. However, if one does not give precedence to reverence, then it is not good understanding without evil, for we then find that one 'despises his father and mother.' One is not doing it for its own sake and is a mixture of good and evil, and therefore 'it would have been better if he had not been created.'

Elijah de Vidas, Reshit Hochmah ('The Beginning of Wisdom'), (Warsaw: 1875), Introduction, p.4.
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