אֶת יְהוָה הֶאֱמַרְתָּ הַיּוֹם לִהְיוֹת לְךָ לֵאלֹהִים וְלָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכָיו – דברים כו:יז
כִּי תִשְׁמֹר אֶת מִצְוֹת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְהָלַכְתָּ בִּדְרָכָיו – דברים כח:ט
Twice in Parshas Ki Savo we are told to “walk in the ways of Hashem.” How could we walk in the ways of Hashem?
The Gemara in Sotah (14a) delineates the actions of Hashem: He clothes the naked (Adam and Chava) visited the sick (Avraham Avinu) comforted the mourning (after Sarah’s death), buried the dead (Moshe Rabeinu) and so on. The Gemara states that by doing these things we will be considered walking after Hashem.
The Gemara in Shabbos (133b) states “one should be similar to Hashem; just as He is compassionate and merciful so should you be.”
Then we have the Rambam. Maimonides (Deos 1) spends several paragraphs explaining how people have various character traits, some natural, some culturally influenced and some self taught. He advises that one find the exact middle path equidistant to the extremes of each trait and practices that middle. For example, some people are always very jolly and some are perpetually sad. One should find the exact balance between those two and that is the correct path. [Perhaps the Rambam doesn’t mean the middle path as much as the balanced path. One should have the proper reaction called for in every situation].
The Rambam extols one who is able to do this: He is a Chacham (wise) and a Shalem (whole). Says the Rambam “We are commanded to walk in these middle paths, and they are good and straight, for it says ‘you shall walk in His ways’. (Our passuk!)
He then says that this is what Chazal meant when they said just as he is merciful you too should be merciful. The Rambam adds a whole list of traits to this list: Holiness, kindness, strength, wholesomeness, etc.
There is a glaring question here. How is walking the middle path the way of Hashem? And how do we jump from walking the middle path to emulating Hashem’s traits?
[Indeed in Sefer Hamitzvos Aseh 8 the Rambam codifies walking the middle path in all character traits as a positive mitzvah of walking in His ways].
Every person is created in the image of G-d. This would mean, that there is a built in capability in every human being to be Godlike. This concept explains the Gemaras quoted above that show us what the traits and actions of Hashem are so that we know what we are able to do and what levels we are supposed to reach.
Along comes the Rambam and says: Don’t think that the only goal is to emulate Hashem, even the pathway to emulation is unto itself a Mitzvah! Of course the ultimate pinnacle of perfection is to be totally Godlike, but even the pathway to that goal is a Mitzvah. And that pathway is found by choosing the middle, balanced approach to every situation. And that is the Mitzvah of walking in His ways.
Indeed, the Sefer Hachereidim records this as Mitzvah that can be performed every moment of every day by everyone. Because in every situation that we are faced with, in every decision we make, if we choose the proper balanced approach we are maximizing our potential as a Tzelem Elokim, an image of G-d, and that is a positive commandment. (c.f. Daas Torah Bamidbar p.225)
Interestingly, Rav Saadiah Gaon doesn’t count this as a mitzvah, and explains that it is included in “veahvta es Hashem Elokechah” loving Hashem. Perhaps we can explain this with R Yeruchem Levovitz’s explanation of ‘walking in His ways’. R’ Yeruchem explains that if someone loves and respects someone immensely, be it a teacher or a public figure, they start imitating them, even subconsciously, because they want to be like them. (Imagine bochurim talking like their favorite Rebbe). If one loves and respect Hashem properly, they almost automatically will try to be like Him. Hence it is included in the mitzvah of loving Hashem!!
This time of year, when there is a special closeness between the Jewish Nation and Hashem is perhaps the most auspicious time to intensify our efforts to walk in His ways and emulate His traits.