The great Jewish scholar of our century, Solomon Schechter, was schooled
in Eastern and Central Europe; he taught and did research at the Universities
of Cambridge and London and at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.
Out of the vast expanse of Talmud and Midrash he distilled the principles
and dogmas which have been consistent in Jewish life everywhere through
the centuries. In this essay, Prof. Schechter discusses whether the moral
imperative to emulate God and His ways includes imitation of His jealous
and vengeful behavior.
is the highest achievement of the Law and the deepest experience as well
as realization of righteousness. It is a composite of various aspects
not easily definable, and at times even seemingly contradictory. But diverging
as the ideals of holiness may be in their application to practical life,
they all originate in the concept of the kingdom, the central idea of
Rabbinic theology, and in Israels consciousness of its close relation
to his God, the King.
In its broad feature, holiness is but another word for Imitatio Dei, a
duty intimately associated with Israels close contact with God.
The most frequent name for God in the Rabbinic literature is the
Holy One, occasionally also Holiness, and so Israel
is called holy. But the holiness of Israel is dependent on their acting
in such a way as to become God-like. You shall be holy, for I the
Lord am holy.
The sage, Abba Saul, equates holiness with Imitation of God, defining
this imitation as follows:
I and He, that is like unto Him (God). As He is merciful and gracious,
so be you (man) merciful and gracious.
The Scriptural phrases walking in the ways of God
and being called by the name of God,
are again explained to mean, As God is called merciful and gracious,
so be you merciful and gracious; as God is called righteous, so be you
righteous; as God is called holy, so be you holy.
Again, as the way of heaven is that He is ever merciful against the wicked
and accepts their repentance, so be you merciful against one another.
As God bestows gifts on those who know Him and those who know Him not
and do not deserve His gifts, so bestow you gifts upon one another.
It must be remarked that this God-likeness is confined to His manifestations
of mercy and righteousness. The Rabbis rarely desired the Jew to take
God as a model in His attributes of severity and rigid justice, though
the Bible could have furnished them with many instances of this latter
kind. Interesting in this connection is the way in which the commandment
of the Imitation was codified by some of the later authorities.
Holy One, blessed be He, ordained that man should cleave to His ways,
as it is written, You shall fear the Lord your God, you shall
serve Him, and to Him shall you cleave. (Deut. 10:19) But how
can man cleave to the Shekhinah? Is it not written, For
the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God? (Deut. 4:24)
Rather cleave to His ways: as God nurses the sick, so do you nurse the
sick, and so forth.
The feature of jealousy
is thus quite ignored, while the attributes of mercy and righteousness
become mans law. Indeed it is distinctly taught that man should
not imitate God in the following four things, which He alone can use as
instruments. They are:
jealousy (Deut. 6:5)
revenge (Psalms 94:1)
exaltation (Exod. 15:21, Psalms 93:1)
acting in devious ways.
In chapter 19 of I Kings I, the prophet Elijah says, "I have been
very jealous for the Lord God of Hosts" (v. 10) and even repeats
Gods denunciation of Israel (v. 14). According to the rabbis, God
is displeased by Elijahs imitation of His own jealousy, and rebukes
Elijah saying, "You are always jealous." Elijah is consequently
removed from his prophetic office, and Elisha is appointed prophet in