Thursday, November 04, 2010

Bein Adam Lamakom - Between Man and God.

Mitzvot are generally categorized as Bein Adam Lacheveiro – laws directed towards living within society – and Bein Adam Lamakom – laws that deal with man’s relationship to God. The meaning of the latter – man’s relationship to God is seen in contemporary mainstream Jewish thought, as a form of worship whereby man satisfies God’s wishes and by doing so unleashes a flood of “good”. The simplistic see it as a kind of quid pro quo – I do for God and He reciprocates. The more sophisticated see it as a form of Tikkun - reparation; man’s ritualistic action somehow “repairs” the ruptures in the cosmos allowing for the flow of “good” to gush forth. There is thus a feeling of man being able to manipulate the divine and induce it to satisfy what man considers his needs, by performing rituals. This explains the dissonance we see where people act immorally and unethically while being very punctilious ritualistically. One can hurt fellow man as long as God is placated, nothing untoward will happen. In fact, the ritualistic non-punctilious injured party had it coming to him.   

This has led to a religion of God in service of man. The Chassidim go to the Rebbes and Tzadikkim, the Yeshivish go to the “Gedolim” others go to the “Mekubalim” and other charlatans hoping that they have a better understanding of this manipulation, asking them to help and intercede. It has become anathema to doubt that this works; the doubters are seen as heretics who deny divine power and “Emunat Chachamim”. I, on the other hand, see it as a result of the Christianization of Judaism. As Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz so sharply pointed out, the Christian god sacrificed his son Jesus to serve humankind while Avraham sacrificed his son to serve God. The Christian god serves man and promotes “love” and “faith”. That god can be mollified and manipulated so that he takes pity. On the other hand, the Jewish God demands that man worship Him the source of all knowledge and promotes Yediah – knowledge.

לה  אַתָּה הָרְאֵתָ לָדַעַת, כִּי יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים:  אֵין עוֹד, מִלְּבַדּוֹ.

You yourself were taught to know that Hashem is God; there is none besides Him.

In authentic Judaism, “faith” is replaced with knowledge. Furthermore, our God does not change His mind nor is He mollifiable, because He is perfect in His essence and does not need to adapt, change or improve for greater perfection.

Rambam takes the idea of Mitzvot Bein Adam Lamakom, one-step further.

As is well known, all the commandments are divided into two groups: transgressions between man and his fellow man and transgressions between man and God…. For every commandment, whether it be a prescription or a prohibition, whose purpose is to bring about the achievement of a certain moral quality or of an opinion or the rightness of actions, which only concerns the individual himself and his becoming more perfect, is called by them a commandment dealing with the relation between man and God, even though in reality it sometimes may affect relations between man and his fellow man…. Note this.” (MN 3:35) 

The definition of Bein Adam Lamakom is a Mitzvah that promotes self-improvement. When the Mitzvah does not obviously relate to fellow man it is categorized Bein Adam Lamakom. Man’s self-improvement is the path to follow if he wishes to relate to God. Self-improvement includes the moral, the ethical and the intellectual. The ritual of all Mitzvot has no intrinsic meaning other than changing the person performing them, whether it teaches self-control or promotes a belief. God is not, God forbid, affected by this ritual. It is man that through the changes the Mitzvah induces in him brings himself closer to God. As usual, when Rambam ends a statement with “Note this”, he signals an important point and shift from traditional thinking. This is one of the important teachings and radical changes that Rambam set out to share with us.

This comment was brought to my attention as I am reading an excellent new book that recently came out (in Hebrew), The Secrets of The Guide for the Perplexed by Micah Goodman available here 

I will be writing more about this book and another I recently read (also Hebrew) Rambam by Moshe Halbertal available here  .


  1. tyvm for the post. I very much enjoyed it.

    Might I suggest that instead of thinking in terms of the word "God" (and then needing to slightly "maneuver out" from the difficulty in how a mitzva involving self improvement can be called בין אדם למקום because "it's the path to follow to relate to God") think of God as Existence itself or Primal Existence, in which case every act of self-improvement is de facto בין אדם למקום insofar as the Mitzva's effect on your existential self/being.

    In other words, המקום is not an external He (God), it's an internal IT; that IT being everything that we are. ממילא every mitzva, even if בין אדם לעצמו, is a מצוה בין אדם למקום.

  2. Perhaps you could explain and give simple examples of the terms "moral" and "ethical"?

  3. Daniel, I have to think about how to respond. The separateness of God must remain and your presentation risks polluting it.

    Rabbi Sacks,

    I am not Hillel :-)

    Moral would encompass mostly forbidden issues such as sexual relations that are not sanctioned.

    Ethical would encompass things that would affect our conscience and sense of right and wrong such as Kafuy Tovah for example.

  4. Someone once told me that if a term cannot be explained in a manner that everyone can easily understand, it should not be used.

  5. As they say in Brisk

    Az es derzogt sich nit derhert sich nit.

  6. I wish my Yiddish were adequate to understand this. Translate please.

  7. If it cannot be said it (means) it is not understood.

  8. I appreciate your explicitness.

  9. Is MN Moreh Nebuchim? If so can you please tell me which chapter? I would like to read more.