It is well known that the most effective way to teach someone an idea or concept is by setting a living example for that person to learn from and emulate. We are aware that children learn more from their parents’ ac¬tions than from their admonitions and even their beatings.
This is because things that are conveyed to us through sight and communicated through specific illustration make the most lasting impression on us. Sight is the most vivid and realistic sensory perception. It follows then, that if we are constantly exposed to certain actions, they leave an indelible imprint upon our minds and cause us to act in a similar, if not identical, manner. If we are constantly surrounded by deception and lies, we imbibe these attributes into our very being, and truth becomes meaningless to us. On the other hand, if we see integrity, honesty, sensitivity and concern for our fellow man, these characteristics become the elements that we absorb into our beings. As the Rambam writes in Hilchos Dayos, the natural course of hu¬man nature is to be most influenced by those with whom we come in contact, not so much by what they tell us, not by how they reprimand us, but more than anything else, by how they act.
All of us realize that our goals in life are to strive for the highest levels of human dignity and perfection, and to shun those influences that would rob us of the values and ideals we hope to attain. However, we not only need to avoid negative influences to achieve these goals, we also need positive influences to define and illustrate what our accomplishments can and must be. We face, however, a difficult dilemma. Where do we find this perfect model? Who can we use to guide and direct us?
The Torah provides the solution to this problem with the unique mitzvah of “Veholachto Bidrochov” (to emulate Hashem’s ways). Only Hashem, the ultimate in perfection, can be used to furnish the supreme definition of any characteristic or trait. To emulate man, with all his frailties and imperfections, will lead one to stray from the path of proper development. (We are, however, commanded to follow in the ways of Tzadikim, for they perform the mitzvah of “Veholachto” and their actions are a reflection of Hashem’s.)
Although sight is the most effective form of communication, it is obviously not possible in our relationship to G-d. However, one can spend his life analyzing and studying the ways of Hashem and becoming intimately familiar with His attributes, so that in a sense, he actually sees Him! When our Avos (forefathers) walked in the ways of Hashem, although there was no actual visual contact, they could feel the warmth of His being and they could perceive with complete clarity, the beauty of His kindness. We now have the perfect example, the ultimate representation of what truth is, what justice is, and what love is. By following in His ways, there is no longer any fear that we are compromising our goal.
The initial response most frequently displayed by those learning this mitzvah for the first time is one of complete and total futility. Who is man to try to emulate the Almighty Himself?
How can the human, with his weaknesses and inadequacies, even hope to grasp something that is so far beyond his reach? Hasn’t the Torah charged us with a task beyond our scope and capabilities, thereby rendering this mitzvah completely obsolete?
In truth, this mitzvah can be the greatest morale booster and the most powerful source of encouragement to us. If Hashem has commanded us to reach for the stars, then obviously we possess the ability to do so! We have been informed that we can potentially reach levels of perfection and purity that can almost be equated with those of G-d Himself. In fact, Chazal teach us that were it not for two seemingly extraneous words in the Torah, we would actually equate the holiness man is capable of reaching with that of the Almighty Himself. The Torah states, “Kedoshim tihyu… ani Hashem…” (You shall be holy … I am G-d). Chazal interpret the words “Ani Hashem,” I am G-d, but you cannot be G-d. Hashem Himself has to show us that there is a boundary, that our ability is not limitless. The apex of kedusha is beyond our grasp. It is reserved only for G-d, but we can come very, very close. The Divine spirit (Tzelem Elokim) implanted in our souls is an awesome source of energy. If we harness this power properly, if we utilize our strength to the utmost, we can become beings of even greater kedusha than the Malachim (angels) themselves. True, there are other driving forces within us that can swing the pendulum to the other extreme, but let us not underestimate our potential for greatness and thereby minimize our chances of actually reaching that goal.
There is a very significant side effect and benefit from the mitzvah of emulating G-d.
The Rambam, in Hilchos Purim, tells us that on Purim, if one wishes to add to the observance of Mishloach Manos or Matanos L’evyonim he should sooner engage in the gifts to the poor, for they will bring him greater Simcha. The reason the Rambam offers is that there is no joy like the one who feels he is following in the ways of His Creator. Much like a young child whose greatest joy is being like his parent, so it is with man and his relationship with his G-d.
Following in the Divine ways can then be not only the ultimate cure for the moral decadence of our society, but a solution to the depressions and empty feelings so familiar in our world today. It is only through the study of Torah, the Creator’s gift to man, revealing to him the essence of His pure and holy ways, that man can achieve significant insights into the attributes of G-d, thus enabling him to emulate His ways and benefit from the serenity and joy that it can bring to his existence.