Walk in My Ways
This week we find ourselves with another double sedra. Behar focuses on the holiness of the land of Israel, specifically relating to the Shemitta Cycle. Shemitta is the Sabbath of the land, in which every seventh year, the Land of Israel is to remain fallow. No work may be done, nor benefit redeemed, for an entire year. It is interesting to note that this year is in fact a Shemitta Year; therefore, we must be very cautious with fruit and vegetables if they come from Israel.
In a plea for Torah observance and commitment, the opening words of Bechukotai begin with Hashem telling the Children of Israel to follow in his path. They speak of the rewards that would be forthcoming to us if we keep the Torah, as well as the consequences of us straying. It says specifically “If you will walk in My statutes/laws and observe My commandments and perform them. Then I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will give its produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit.”
Why is the reward for following “the way of Hashem” “produce and a healthy land?” Why is this a specific reward for doing Mitzvot?
Rabbi Shimshon R Hirsch offers us the following interpretation. He translates the words ‘if you will go’ in the verse above toּ mean ‘to go in pursuit to attain possessions’. He firmly believed that this was not simply a statement set up specifically for our spiritual endeavours; when the Torah is imploring us to “walk in the way of Hashem,” it means within the confines of our daily lives. We should aspire for great achievements within society, but under the banner of doing so in the name of God. God is telling his people that in satisfying our material aspirations, we should use them to further our spiritual pursuit of happiness and success. Simply put: dream big, live your life – but do it in a ‘kosher’ way.
By following Hashem’s commandments and taking them to heart, we will be enlightened intellectually and be executors of justice and loving-kindness. As a reward for this effort, God will, in turn, reward us with physical nourishment. Hashem is telling us ‘walk in My ways throughout your life, in whatever you are doing in life, and I will reward you with the sustenance you need to live that life’.
In the sedra of Bechukotai God delivers an important message to the Jewish People, describing the consequences of their choices and His resulting blessings and curses. We are told quite clearly that if you follow the path of God He will reward you, and turning away is not advised.
The opening words state “And you shall walk in my statutes,” God implores His people to follow His ways. But why is the verse not phrased, “you shall keep my statutes”? This would appear to be a more accurate way to command His people.
Some commentators suggest that it is alluding to the necessity of Torah learning. The way to truly follow in the path of God is to immerse yourself in Torah study. This of course is a fundamental value in Judaism, but I would like to suggest a different understanding of the verse.
The real tests we face are not theoretical; they occur when we are ‘walking’ in the real world and are challenged as to whether we are able to adhere to God’s laws.
Throughout our lives there are ongoing dilemmas between societal laws and our religious beliefs. The Torah prescribes to us the importance of following the law of the land and respecting the society we live in, but there are times when Torah must take precedence. Examples would include cases to do with monetary law where the Beth Din (Jewish Court) might rule differently to a civil court based on Jewish Law.
There are also occasions when societal norms become prevalent values and where trends and liberal thinking can oppose the very nature and core of our belief system. The question each of us must ask ourselves is do we have the commitment to keep our Torah values strong and true, while trying to embrace the needs of our evolving society?
Taking this further, we might also face challenges that highlight major conflicts in our lives. When choosing between our daily life and Torah’s demands on us, how do we respond? When an exam falls on Yom Tov, or a business meeting runs into Shabbat – what do we do? The challenge that God is putting to all of us is when ‘walking’ in the real world, during our day to day life, are we able to cling on to our Jewish values and responsibilities.
Such demands are incumbent on us all, a lesson that is recurrent throughout the Torah and the rewards eternal. The verse ‘to walk in [His] statutes’ is therefore a plea to us all, not just to keep the Torah – but to live it!