The Two Tablets
The Torah Portion contains a repetition of the Ten Commandments, with a few minor changes. The Mabit(1) makes a remarkable observation about the two luchos (Tablets) on which the Commandments were inscribed. The Rabbis explain that the two luchos were focusing on different areas of the mitzvot: The first luach consisted of mitzvot that relate to the realm of bein adam leMakom (between man and God), such as belief in God and observing Shabbat. The second luach consisted of mitzvot that relate to bein adam lechaveiro (between man and his fellow), such as the prohibitions not to kill, and not to covet.
The Mabit points out that there were far more words on the first luach than on the second.(2) Accordingly, there was much less space to fit all the words on the first luach than on the second. Therefore, it must be that the words in the first luach were written far smaller than those in the second. This, the Mabit argues, was done deliberately by God so that the side that discussed the bein adam lechaveiro mitzvot would be more noticeable than the side that focused on bein adam leMakom. The Mabit continues that this is because the yetzer hara (negative inclination) is strongest in the area of bein adam lechaveiro. God wanted people to focus more on the mitzvot that relate to bein adam lechaveiro, because extra effort is required to overcome the yetzer hara in this area.(3)
It would seem that the Talmud in Bava Basra provides evidence supporting the Mabit's argument.(4) The Talmud discusses various sins in which people stumble. It tells us that a minority of people stumble in the area of forbidden relationships, a majority stumble in gezel (5) (stealing), and everyone stumbles in avak lashon hara.(6) Forbidden relationships generally fall in the area of bein adam leMakom,(7) whereas stealing and lashon hara both clearly fall within the realm of bein adam lechaveiro. Thus, the Gemara is telling us that people are more prone to sin in certain mitzvot that pertain to bein adam lechaveiro.
The following story also supports this point: Rav Chaim Soloveitchik was asked to rule on the kashrus of an animal to ascertain whether it was kosher or not. He ruled that it was indeed not kosher, causing the butcher involved a significant loss. The butcher accepted the ruling with equanimity. A few months later, the same butcher was involved in a monetary dispute with someone else, over a far smaller amount of money. Rav Chaim ruled against him. On this occasion, however, the butcher was furious, and insulted Rav Chaim for his ruling. An observer to this incident, Rav Simcha Zelig Reeger, asked Rav Chaim why the butcher was calm when he lost a far larger amount of money and so angry about the smaller sum. Rav Chaim explained that on this occasion, he 'lost' to someone else - it was the fact that another person 'beat' him that angered him so much.
The question remains, what is the reason (or reasons) as to why people are more prone to stumbling in bein adam lechaveiro.(8) It is possible to suggest the following: The Vilna Gaon writes that every mitzvah stems from a particular good character trait, and every sin (aveira) stems from a bad trait.(9) Nonetheless, it seems that it is possible for a person to have certain bad character traits and yet observe many mitzvot. For example, a person who has a tendency to lose his temper will not necessarily be hindered by this bad trait, in his observance of Shabbat, kashrus, and many other mitzvot in the realm of bein adam LeMakom. However, he will be tremendously hindered in the area of bein adam lechaveiro. Every time he raises his voice in an inappropriate fashion, he will very likely transgress the prohibition of onaas devarim (hurtful words) and if he shouts at someone in front of others, he will transgress the extremely serious sin of embarrassing someone in public. Similarly, a person who has the negative trait of focusing on the bad in people will still be able to pray three times a day and learn Torah, however he will very likely stumble in lashon hara and judging others favorably.
There are obviously certain character traits which also make it very difficult to observe mitzvot in bein adam Makom, such as laziness. However, it is important to note, that such traits will also greatly harm one's observance of bein adam lechaveiro related mitzvot. For example, a lazy person will not be willing to help his/her spouse in the work that needs to be done around the home, causing problems in the relationship. Even the trait of taiva (lust) can be the cause of great failings in bein adam lechaveiro. For example, a person who is overly attached to his/her food, will very likely react in an inappropriate fashion to his/her spouse if they serve food that he does not appreciate, again resulting in a transgression of onaas devarim.
The obvious lesson to derive from the Mabit is that extra effort is required in bein adam lechaveiro.(10) Moreover, based on the explanation that the root cause of the failing in this area are bad character traits, it is essential to work on traits such as anger, jealousy, and stinginess. Indeed, the Maharsha points out that when the Gemara said that everyone stumbles in avak lashon hara, it was only referring to people who do not make an effort to improve in this area.(11) However, one who makes an effort to improve his speech by learning the laws relating to it and improving his traits, is not destined to speak avak lashon hara. This surely applies to all the mitzvot bein adam lechaveiro; if one makes a strong and consistent effort to improve then he will overcome the yetzer hara's attempts to make his stumble.
1. The Mabit was one of the leading Rabbis in the 16th century in Israel.
2. In the version of the Ten Commandments in Va'eschanan, there are 162 words in the first luach and 27 in the second.
3. Mabit, Beis Elokim, Shaar Yesodos, Ch. 12.
4. Bava Basra, 165a.
5. See Rashbam, Bava Basra, 165a., who explains what kind of stealing this refers to.
6. Literally translated as the 'dust of lashon hara'. It is a more subtle type of negative speech.
7. With the exception of having relations with a married woman, which obviously involves a failing in bein adam lechaveiro.
8. The following answer is a possible approach that I suggested to my Rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Berkovits shlita, and he approved of the answer. However, I am willing to hear any other approaches to this matter. Please email me if you have any suggestions - thanks.
9. Even Sheleima, Ch. 1.
10. Of course, this is not to say that one should not put great effort into improving his performance in bein adam LeMakom. It is also, important to note that many people might feel more of an inclination to focus on bein adam lechaveiro, and neglect their responsibilities in bein adam leMakom.
11. See Shemiras Halashon, Ch.15.