אם בחוקותי תלכו….
“If you walk in accordance with My Law”… thus opens the last Torah portion in the Book of Leviticus, on this Shabbat when finally (!), the Torah readings calendar of the Jewish people inside and outside of Israel, is back in sync. It’s a strange beginning, and as often, I wonder what the alternatives to this opening are. I think the Torah should have started three words later with “If you guard my commandments and do them”,,, then I’ll give you good things, rain and produce, food, safety, security and peace. That’s it! Do mitzvot and get reward. What’s with the walking?
First, perhaps, the Torah disconnects observing mitzvot from the reward. Not so simple, says the Torah. I don’t want you just to “guard” (or “observe”) and think that this will get you something in return. That’s not what it’s about.
Rather, I want you to walk. “Observing” can be stationary; walking indicates movement, usually forward, implying progress and growth, even if not hasty, but still, purposeful. The Talmud at the end of Tractate Nida tells us that “walking in the Torah” is by learning its laws. Think of Abraham going to the Land and later to Mount Moria; Or his servant, sent to go, find a wife. Moses, at the end of Deuteronomy, walking to the People; Or the many “walks” in the Book of Ruth, which we’ll read soon on Shavuot (this year, on May 20-21), first Naomi’s family walking away from Bethlehem in Judea to Moav (sort of like leaving California for Nevada due to drought in the West Coats. What are the chances that there will be water in NV when CA is dry??). Naomi and her daughters in law are “walking on the road to the Land of Judah” (Ruth 1:7), again purposeful journey, which Naomi is trying to discourage Ruth and Orpa from: “walk back, return each to your mother’s home”… (1:8) culminating with Ruth’s famous statement: “for where you go, I go”… (1:16). The story continues: Naomi sees Ruth “determined to go with her…and the two went on until they reached Bethlehem” (1:18-19).
How is all this connected to our Torah portion this Shabbat?
Perhaps we don’t yet have to arrive somewhere, but we are asked to walk; put our feet one in front of the other and make – even if only tiny steps – onward. There are 613 commandments, and “arrival” is questionable, therefore, not required, but movement – is.
It’s fascinating that our word for Jewish Law is halacha, literally, the walk (the Tao?), the journey. Our whole story centers on travels (including more than 80% of the Torah). Over the centuries, the walk of halacha has slowed down. There were many reasons: for one, we had to survive, and focus on very cautiously transmitting the precious gift we received to the next generation. Anything too dramatic might have jeopardized our who existence. But now, maybe we have an opportunity to breath, and can rethink how we journey and what is essential.
This week points to us all the things we lack – in the form of “curses” and “rebukes” – we haven’t mastered almost anything, but as long as we journey, there is a chance to be deeply blessed.
A moment of Kabalah: In five places in the Torah, Jacob’s name appears with the letter “vav”, while in five place in the Bible, Elijah’s name appears without a “vav”. It’s as if Jacob took a piece of Elijah’s name to hint that when Elijah comes as Messiah, he will be the announcer of redemption to Jacob’s children. And why a “vav”? some say, because its numerical value is 6 and this will happen in the 6th thousand (the “Friday’ of creation), and maybe because the “vav” is a connector (it mean “hook” and stands for “and” in the Hebrew language), so it will happen only when we care for each other and not just for our own personal redemption.