June 03, 2016
The following insight is taken from Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb's weekly email Dvar Torah. Rabbi Weinreb is the Executive Vice President Emeritus of the Orthodox Union. His is also the Editor-In-Chief for the Koren Talmud Bavli, and Rabbi Emeritus of Shomrei Emunah in Baltimore, MD. Have a great Shabbos!
The Midrash understands the opening phrase of our parasha, “If you walk in my laws,” as indicating the Torah’s desire that we internalize God’s laws thoroughly so that they become our major purpose in life. Even if we initially define our life’s journey in terms of very different goals, God’s laws will hopefully become our ultimate destination. There are numerous other ways suggested by commentaries throughout the ages to understand the literal phrase, “If you walk in my ways.” Indeed, Rabbi Chaim ibn Atar, the great 18th century author of Ohr HaChaim, enumerates no less than 42 explanations of the phrase.
Several of his explanations, while not identical to that of our Midrash, are consistent with it and help us understand it more deeply. For example, he suggests that by using the verb “walk,” the Torah is suggesting to us that it is sometimes important in religious life to leave one’s familiar environment. One must “walk,” embark on a journey to some distant place, in order to fully realize his or her religious mission. It is hard to be innovative, it is hard to change, in the presence of people who have known us all of our lives.
Ohr HaChaim also leaves us with the following profound insight, which the author bases upon a passage in the sourcebook of the Kabbalah, the Zohar: “Animals do not change their nature. They are not ‘walkers.’ But humans are ‘walkers.’ We are always changing our habits, ‘walking away’ from base conduct to noble conduct, and from lower levels of behavior to higher ones. ‘Walking,’ progressing, is our very essence. ‘Walking’ distinguishes us from the rest of God’s creatures.”
The phrase “to walk” is thus a powerful metaphor for who we are. No wonder, then, that this final portion of the Book of Leviticus begins with such a choice of words. All of life is a journey, and despite our intentions, we somehow arrive at Bechukotai, “My laws,” so that we end our journey through this third book of the Bible with these words:
“These are the commandments that the Lord gave Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.”