Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Walk Article-Bechukotai



Rabbi David Walk


Please forgive me, but I've used this title before, September 2, 2010.  But believe me, this is a totally different article.  I'm not even sure why I called that article by this name.  But this time that song title from Carousel by Rogers and Hammerstein is absolutely appropriate.  It not only appropriately describes the point I want to make about this week's Torah reading, but is the theme song for Liverpool FC (owned by the same people who own the Boston Red Sox, and are therefore my favorite soccer team, even though I don't like soccer and my sons root for Arsenal) which just finished second (sniff!) in the British Premier League.  If you've never heard the crowd at Anfield Stadium sing You'll Never Walk Alone after a match, do yourself a favor and check it out on YouTube right now, unless you're reading this on Shabbat, in which case do it right after Havdala.  Probably few Liverpool fans have ever seen the play or movie, but the song was a big hit for Liverpool's own Gerry & the Pacemakers in 1963.  In any case, that emotional anthem really does describe a major feature in this week's parsha.

This week's Torah reading begins with the blessings which will be bestowed upon Israel at some future date, and opens with the words, 'If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them (Leviticus 26:3).'  The question which interests every reader of this text is why does the verse refer to mitzvah observance as 'walking'?  The great commentary, Rashi insists that this term doesn't discuss mitzvah performance. He quotes the Midrash (Torat Cohanim, 26:2) which explains that the walking means working hard on Torah issues.  Most authorities assume that Rashi and the Midrash mean Torah study, but not the Sfat Emet.  The second Gerer Rebbe insists that the term 'walk' hints at the reality that we humans are able to improve our spiritual standing in the world. This is opposed to Angels who 'stand' and are static in terms of spiritual level. He further suggests that the mitzvoth help and guide us in this task until we reach the supernal source of the precept where the practitioner encounters God Who accompanies the individual from then on. 

This beautiful approach to the analogy of walking is reinforced by the verse at the end of these blessings, 'I am the Lord your God…who made you walk upright (verse 13).'  But like many verses there are problem in the translation.  The Hebrew word for 'upright' is komemiyut.    This seems to be a plural form.  So, the Gerer Rebbe explains that there are two forms of this upright posture.  One refers to our physical bodies.  We will be seen by all and sundry as moving strong and tall through this earthly domain.  However, there is a hidden, unseen aspect to humans.  This inner spiritual self will also achieve upright status in the supernal realms.  Our perfect posture will be both a physical and spiritual reality.

This is an inspirational way to interpret the walking metaphor in our verse, but there's another point of view propounded by Reb Shalom Noach Berezofsky, the Slonimer Rebbe.  That great Chasidic leader, who passed away in 2000, looked at the issue from another point of view.  He wrote that since the verse says that you should walk in mitzvoth rather than saying that you should fulfill (t'kaymu) these precepts, it's clearly not discussing the performance of a specific mitzvah.  It is, instead, talking about an attitude towards mitzvoth in general.  This concept embraces the entirety of the individual, including one's brain, heart and limbs.  These wonderful blessings don't accrue to one who has performed a large number of discrete mitzvah acts.  The reward is for leading a life which is imbued and dominated by Torah principles.  Walking in the statutes of God encompasses the entire being of the person.  This attitude is in effect whether it's day or night, whether the person is alone or with others.  It's not about an act or deed; it's about a way of life, and about a way of thinking about living.  It's a mindset which informs all aspects of the individual's being.  Ultimately, this outlook will affect the physical as well as the spiritual issues in one's existence.  Once this is accomplished then that individual has achieved the peace mentioned in the text (verse 6), because the disparate parts of his being are no longer at war for his soul.

Then there will no longer be swords or weapons in their life, because there will no longer be conflict in their existence.  The Slonimer Rebbe describes how these great blessings can be achieved by an individual in any time period, rather than the standard point of view that these blessings are a description of some future reality for the entire nation of Israel.  Probably we all know such individuals who have achieved a certain calm in their routine because they have put to rest the tensions which afflict the majority of us.  Most of us are comparable to Ya'akov struggling through the night with the Esav parts of our psyche.  Now we understand why Jewish Law is called halacha(the walking), because it guides our every step.  We walk The Walk.

What's it like when the clashes of our days and years have been put to rest?  How do we describe those people who don't sweat every decision because they have already committed to the Torah's point of view on every issue?   I think they are portrayed in verse 12:  I will walk among you and be your God.  When we will have set aside the conflict and indecision we feel like we're strolling with God, following Divine pathways.  And then you can sing: When you walk through a storm keep your chin up high (komemiyut) and don't be afraid of the dark.  Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart, and you'll never walk alone, you'll never walk alone.