May 23rd-24th, 2003
22 Iyar, 5763
WALK THIS WAY
I bet you don’t usually associate the activity of Torah study with
"walking." (And I certainly would never think that you associate it with
"walking away!") Yet, that is precisely the terminology employed at the
beginning of this week’s portion, as G-d
delineates the blessings--physical and spiritual--the Jewish people will
enjoy if they wholeheartedly uphold the Torah.
"If you will walk in My decrees, and observe My commandments, and perform
them, then I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will give
its produce…and you will dwell securely in your land." (26, 3-5)
As our Sages point out (in the Midrash, a body of ancient rabbinical
teachings on the Torah), the long introductory clause of the first verse
requires elucidation. The expression, "walk in My decrees," cannot mean
simply the practical observance of the Torah’s commandments, for that is
stated immediately afterwards ("and observe My commandments"). The Torah
does not use language imprecisely, nor expend extra words and phrases for
no reason--in the way that, say, you and I did back in high school (or
college) when we needed to pad our term papers!
The Midrash explains what’s going on. "Walk in My decrees" alludes to the
study of the Torah, and the implication of, "walk," is not a lazy stroll,
but rather a serious and purposeful stride! (The Hebrew expression the
Midrash uses, "amaylim ba’Torah," literally means, "toiling--or exerting
oneself--in the Torah.")
As I said before, it’s a bit strange that the term, "walking," is used to
But if you think about it, this expression conveys a beautiful message.
The study of Torah is a grand journey, a colorful and exciting, if
sometimes rigorous tour throughout every phase of life and the world, as
our Creator made them. The Torah is itself a world, or more precisely (as
our Sages tell us) the blueprint from which G-d created the world. The
decrees of the Torah are so numerous and extensive because the Jewish
people have been chosen (and ourselves chose) to sanctify and elevate
everything in this physical world as we strive to be a "goy kadosh" (holy
nation). Our task is nothing less than to reveal the holiness in every
phase of life though observance of the mitzvos. And naturally, such a task
calls for some pretty serious study, a sincere and extended (lifelong)
effort to attain greater and greater understanding of how we can fulfill
our life’s purpose.
In other words, a spiritual journey.
We have to get up off our couches, put away the Pringle’s (or, at least,
pack ‘em up to go), and start moving. Learning, walking in G-d’s decrees,
investigating, assuming new responsibilities. The Torah wants us to be
"going places" spiritually, and not lounging around and stagnating.
(Periodic periods of rest and relaxation--like er, the occasional Savannah
Sand Gnats game or what-have-you--are, of course, needed to keep us strong
and sane along the way.)
Now, the verse said, "walk," and the Midrash explains that it means
exertion in Torah study. The Torah study that inspires us to live
uprightly and to joyously follow G-d’s commandments must involve some
degree of exertion--just as walking requires some steady effort. We were
not created to "dabble in," "have an occasional peek at," or "get a little
taste of" the wisdom of the Torah, but rather to "walk in G-d’s decrees,"
to tirelessly explore (and internalize) deeper and deeper levels of
meaning every single day of our lives. Walking is active, not passive.
(Even a few minutes of fixed daily Torah study with concentration
represent a tremendous accomplishment…and essential nourishment for our
Just as we notice amazing things when we leave the plush bubble-world of
our automobiles and actually get out and walk somewhere, so too, we always
discover (or notice) new treasures and vistas when our study of Torah is
"walking in G-d’s decrees." The scenery always changes…and even if we go
over the "same terrain" again and again, we aim to do so with greater
insight and discernment each time. Toiling in Torah can be an intensely
enjoyable experience, once you get warmed up. It never gets old or dry.
The problem is, we do (if we don’t guard against it).
Now, the final goal is not the mere study of the Torah, however absorbing
or passionate it may be. After all, the verses with which we began
continue: "observe My commandments…and perform them." The Midrash comments
that "observe" alludes to an exertion in study for the purpose of
performing the commandments (as opposed to mere intellectual stimulation),
and then "perform" is the actual carrying out in action (as stated). It is
true that the walking, or journeying, is both enjoyable and essential, but
the point, ultimately, is to GET SOMEWHERE. That "somewhere" is the
realization of the Torah and its commandments in our lives: in our
thoughts, our speech and our actions. (And there are specific commandments
that pertain to each one of those spheres, if you will, of our existence.)
Not just to study the Torah, but to study and to LIVE THE TORAH--this is
"Great is study, for it leads to practice," is a famous adage of our
Sages. When do the blessings of Divine beneficence and spiritual
fulfillment ("the rains in their time") come about? "If you will walk in
My decrees, and observe My commandments, and perform them."
Fellow travelers, I’ve written far too much already. You have places to
go, and people to see in your journey of Torah study. I am no prophet, nor
expert outdoorsman, but I can certainly promise you spiritual health and
exhilaration (if occasionally a bit of steep or rocky terrain) in your
career of walking in G-d’s decrees, and in carrying out the rest of the
Divine program. Without a doubt, it is aerobics for the soul!
And this week’s portion, which concludes the Book of Leviticus (Numbers
comes next) is a great place to begin. You can always consult my little
parsha sheets--and all the other numerous English commentaries
available--for some information on places of interest along the way. But
the journey is definitely your own.
HAPPY TRAILS….E-MAIL ME FROM THE ROAD…AND GOOD SHABBOS!
My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Into Genesis |
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