This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Behukotai, is the natural continuation of last week’s parsha – Behar. Usually, these two parshot are read on the same Shabbat, but occasionally – as this year – they are read separately, one week apart.
In last week’s parsha, we read about the mitzva of shmita – letting the land rest every seventh year. This week, we read that this commandment, like keeping the values of the Torah and the mitzvot, is the guarantee for the financial and political security of Am Yisrael in the Land of Israel.
The parsha is divided into two main sections.
The first deals with positive things promised if Am Yisrael follows the correct path. The second deals with the negative side; the bad state of affairs that occurs when Am Yisrael does not trust in G-d and follow His ways.
At the top of the good things promised in the future is the following verse: “I will walk among you and be your G-d, and you will be My people.” (Leviticus 26, 12) On the face of it, this verse is not clear at all. What is the meaning of the promise that G-d “will walk among” us? What is the significance of Him being our G-d and we being His people? Is there a possibility that G-d will stop being G-d and that Am Yisrael’s history of being the chosen people will be erased, a choice that G-d made at the Exodus from Egypt and at the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai? The explanation offered by Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, well-known Torah commentator who lived in France during the 11th century) is even more surprising.
He writes the following words about this verse: “I will walk among you:… ‘I will stroll with you in the Garden of Eden, as if I were one of you...’” Now it really reads like a riddle. Is the verse talking about something real or about the Garden of Eden that we are not familiar with and cannot describe? And what is the meaning of the phrase “I will stroll… as if I were one of you”? It seems the explanation stems from the following understanding. It is well-known that man is composed of two parts: body and soul. The body is the material part of man – the body parts, the senses, and everything that can be felt or sensed. The soul is the spiritual side, the understandings, the values, morals and conscience.
Every person faces confrontation between these two parts of himself. The material side pulls us toward tangible pleasures, the kind that can be touched and experienced directly, whereas the spiritual side pulls us toward a higher pleasure, one that stems from overcoming desires, from understanding a complex issue or a deed of noble renunciation.
Behavior that invests in the spiritual side of man is called by the Torah “walking in the ways of G-d.” The Torah tells us seven times to “walk in His ways.”
And what is G-d’s way? This is also clarified by the Torah in several places. We will mention two of them that stand out: “… that they should keep the way of the Lord to perform righteousness and justice.”
(Genesis 18, 19) “… for all His ways are just; a faithful God, without injustice He is righteous and upright.” (Deuteronomy 32, 4) From these verses we learn that the way of G-d, the path we are required to take, is to perform righteousness, justice, faith, honesty, and to stay far from all injustice.
Now we can understand the meaning of the promise “I will walk among you.”
The more a man walks in G-d’s path, the closer he feels to Him, the higher and more transcendent, noble and ideological, nurturing and kind. When Rashi writes that G-d promises to “stroll with us in the Garden of Eden,” it could be that he means that if here in the world where we live and work we walk in G-d’s ways, we will know how to create a Garden of Eden.
We will transcend to the feeling of closeness with G-d, an exalted sense of walking alongside G-d, since an honest and ideological man and also G-d walk along the same path.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.