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Walking in God's Ways

This week's parashah, Behukotay, is the final parashah in the book of Vayikra. In this parashah God tells Moses to inform the people if they "walk with my statutes and observe my mitzvot (commandments) all will go well for them. However, if they do not, the heavens will dry up and all sorts of tragedy will befall them. The parashah then describes in great detail what will happen if the people continue to ignore God's will.

Though I don't take this type of "reward and punishment theology" literally I believe that there is an important spiritual lesson to be found in the problematic narrative of the parashah. At the start of the parashah we find another phrase connected to the idea of walking. Moses is told that if the people walk with God, hithalkhti b'toch'chem,"I (God) will walk about in your midst."

The word b'toch can mean in the midst of the people, but it is often inter- preted by the rabbis as meaning 'within each individual.' In other words, if the people walk in God's statutes then God will be within each of them wherever they go.

Later in the parashah God begins to warn the people of what will happen if they do not walk in God's ways. However, the phrasing is curious, for it states that "if you walk with me in opposition, then I will walk with you in opposition" (Everett Fox translation). This is stated three times in the parashah and each time that the people walk "in opposition with" God the threatened punishments become more severe. However, the Torah never states that either the people or God have really abandoned one another, for they are always walking with one another -- even if in opposition. It is almost as if God is saying "no matter how much you may seem to reject me you can never really get rid of me." But beyond that it is also saying that no matter how much we might go against "God's will" or walk in ways other than those which are prescribed for us God is still with us -- even if in opposition. However, God is not b'toch (within) us. God is merely walking next to us. It is as if God becomes the eternal adversary or shadow who is prepared at any moment to become our support and comfort. It is our actions, our opposition, which prevent God from being within us. As the great Hassidic rebbe Menahem Mendel of Kotzk said, "God dwells where we let God in." If we oppose God it is not that God abandons us, but simply that God is waiting for us to let God in.

For each of us "letting God in" means something different. To some it has a more anthropomorphic sense, to others it is more mystical. To others, such as myself, it can have the sense of allowing the Power that brings peace and goodness into the world to enter and flow through us. Each of us needs to determine for ourselves what "letting God in" means to us (at least for that moment) and what we do that prevents God from entering us. In this way we can make our lives and our world better by walking with God within us and infusing all that we do with the energy of the Divine.
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah