Musing: Different Paths, Equally Righteous

The verse that opens the haftarah-reading this Shabbos, from the prophet Amos, refers to the Jewish people as being as dear to G-d as “the children of Kush” – a kingdom of black people.

“Just as a Kushite differs [from others] in [the color of] his skin,” comments the Talmud (Moed Katan, 16b), “so are the Jewish people different in their actions.”

The Chasam Sofer’s interpretation of that comment (he apparently had “the righteous” in place of “the Jewish people”) is well worth pondering.

His words:

“It is well known that every Jew is required to observe all the mitzvos.  But there is no single path for them all.  One Jew may excel in Torah-study, another in avodah (service, or prayer), another in kindnesses to others; this one in one particular mitzvah, that one in another.  Nevertheless, while they all differ from each other in their actions, they all have the same intention, to serve Hashem with their entire hearts.

“Behold the Kushite.  Inside, his organs, his blood and his appearance are all the same as other people’s.  Only in the superficiality of his skin is he different from others.  This is the meaning of ‘[different] in his skin,’ [meaning] only in his skin.  Likewise, the righteous are different [from one another] only ‘in their actions’; their inner conviction and intention, though, are [the same,] aimed at serving Hashem in a good way.”

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