Various Halachot are derived from the fascinating phrases in the beautiful song, Shirat HaYam. One such Halachah is the principle of Hiddur Mitzvah, the concept of striving to do Mitzvot in an enhanced manner in order to beautify our service of Hashem. The Gemara (Shabbat 133b) derives this principle from the phrase, “Zeh Keili VeAnveihu,” “This is my God and I will make Him a house (Shemot 15:2),” which is interpreted by our Rabbis as a specific directive to strive to perform Mitzvot in a beautiful and exalted manner. The Gemara provides various examples for this: Lulav, Tzitzit, and Sefer Torah are but a sample of Mitzvot that we are instructed to fulfill in manners that reflects a deep and sincere commitment to our Avodat Hashem.
The Gemara subsequently records the opinion of Abba Sha’ul, who offers an alternative interpretation of that Pasuk. According to Abba Sha’ul, the Pasuk teaches us to follow and emulate the ways of HaKadosh Baruch Hu. “Just as He is compassionate and gracious, so should you be compassionate and gracious” (Shabbat 133b). On the surface, the Gemara is presenting us with two dissimilar interpretations of the same Pasuk, each one striking and poignant, yet unique and distinct. Rav Baruch Epstein zt”l (Torah Temimah Shemot 15:2 s.v. VeAnveihu footnote 12), however, suggests that Abba Sha’ul is not merely offering a new alternative interpretation, but rather he is adding to the view of the Rabbis. Just as one is to beautify his performance of Mitzvot Bein Adam LaMakom, one should similarly seek to emulate Hashem’s compassion and graciousness to enhance his fulfillment of Mitzvot Bein Adam LeChaveiro. It is not enough for one to simply achieve an enhanced relationship with Hashem; he must also demand of himself the same degree of attention and commitment when relating to his fellow man. After all, how foolish would one be if he were to spend extra time, energy, and resources to enhance the quality of his Lulav or Tefillin, yet ignore his basic responsibility to improve upon his interpersonal relationships? In fact, Rav Epstein declares that such an individual runs the risk of causing a profound Chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem’s name, for people would associate the deficiencies in his character with his religious identity. On the other hand, when one seeks to emulate the attributes of God and demonstrates loving kindness and compassion towards others, this allows for a more ideal fulfillment of Hiddur Mitzvah in all of the Mitzvot that he performs.
Rav Avraham Pam zt”l discussed this matter extensively and often reminded his students to strike the difficult, yet essential balance called “Mishkal HaChassidut,” the delicate balance between serving Hashem and helping other people. Rav Pam recounted how the Chafetz Chaim refused to accept the honor of holding his city’s only set of Dalet Minim during the Hallel out of concern that it would possibly leave others depressed and disillusioned for not having their own set. Rav Pam himself suggested that while the Mitzvah of rejoicing with a bride and groom is a lofty and important Mitzvah, it is improper for people to stay late at a wedding at the expense of people who may be babysitting their children. These extraordinary examples demonstrate the unique sensitivity and righteousness of the Chafetz Chaim and Rav Pam. These examples provide us with concrete illustrations as to how we must strive for consistency and balance in our service of Hashem, not allowing our sincere desire to connect with God to compromise our responsibilities to our family, friends and neighbors. Even when actively serving Hashem, we must maintain our concern and compassion for other people.
Truthfully, one would be hard-pressed to find any chapter in the Shulchan Aruch in which issues of conflict in the realm of interpersonal relationships do not arise. The intricacies of Halachah, combined with the complexities of human temperaments and emotions, demand that we approach our Avodat Hashem with thoughtful foresight and extreme caution. One must continuously evaluate and seek proper Halachic guidance to insure that he succeeds in maintaining the proper balance between his performance of Mitzvot and the need to be mindful and considerate of others.