‘On the Relationship of Mitzvot Between Man and His Neighbor and Man and His Maker,’ by Daniel Sperber
Rabbi David Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and the author, most recently, of Why Faith Matters. In this Scroll series, Wolpe examines a work of Jewish scholarship, either contemporary or classic, which has relevance for modern Jewish life.
Judaism divides mitzvot into two broad categories, bein adam l’havero — between human beings, and bein adam l’makom, between a person and God. So putting on tefillin is between the individual and God. Feeding a hungry person is between human beings. Granting that there is an inevitable overlap — God is implicated in all our actions, and when you put on tefillin it may be modeling for others, the two broad categories stand. When they conflict, is there a means of deciding which takes priority? Is one class of mitzvah more important than the other?
Daniel Sperber’s cumbersomely titled but erudite and stimulating book, On the Relationship of Mitzvot Between Man and His Neighbor and Man and His Maker, argues that the tradition teaches that mitzvot between people take precedence. Admitting that to many this is counterintuitive — we owe the Creator of everything more than our neighbor — the book nonetheless makes a compelling case that our neighbor, fragile and needy, comes first. Threaded through the argument are a myriad of sources along with wonderful anecdotes, illustrations and fine grained talmudic distinctions that make the book equally rewarding as learning and moral instruction. (more…)