Walking in the Statutes

A Torah with reading glasses.
The power of a simple verse can be so sweet.

In parshat Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34), God begins describing a set of conditional promises with the statement "If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them;" (Leviticus 26:3), and ends the list of very physical and earthly promises with the following dramatic words "And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be My people." (Leviticus 26:12).

Rav Yitzchak Aranma, the author of Akeidat Yitzchak, asks a poignant question. "Adherents of religion who believe in Divine reward and punishment (for those who please or anger God, respectively), assail the Torah's silence concerning the spiritual remuneration that constitutes the chief aim of the Torah, which holds up transitory, material rewards, as the goal of those obedient to its laws."

Is the essence of Torah all about physical blessings?

Is the purpose of spiritual yearning all about physical pleasure?

I believe the answer is found in the seeming culmination and climax of this section "And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be My people" (Leviticus 26:12).

Rabbi Kook, of blessed memory, revealed a very deep insight regarding two verses in Genesis. God commanded the earth to give forth fruit trees producing fruit: "And God said: 'Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit-tree bearing fruit after its kind, wherein is the seed thereof, upon the earth.' And it was so" (Genesis 1:11). The earth fulfilled God's command but with one modification: "And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after its kind; and God saw that it was good" (Gen 1: 12). The earth produced "trees producing fruit".

The Midrash teaches that the original and ideal creation was that the trees themselves (their bark and trunk) would taste like the fruit that it produced, fruit-trees bearing fruit. Yet instead, the earth fashioned trees that only produced fruit.

The deep meaning and instruction in such a seeming difference between the ideal and the created reality points to the flaw in the reality we all experience in life. Yet God "saw that it was good". God purposely created a reality at odds with its ideal, a tension-filled imperfect world

Rav Kook explained that one of the basic failings of our limited perception of reality is that we generally aspire to the goal and ignore the process of attaining that goal. Man often focuses on the fruit of the tree and ignores the sweetness of the tree that bore the fruit. We place emphasis on the destination and as a result are unable to appreciate the means by which we attain our goals.

The essence of our walk with God is inherent in the walk itself. While it is true that a walk of holiness will impact and change the reality around us, but the reward of such a walk is that God walks amongst us. In the words of Rav Yitzchak Arama "Indeed, the spiritual bliss whose source is the Torah and the reward of the Divine commandments, are more than amply recorded in the frequent accounts throughout the Torah of the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) resting in our midst and in the ongoing communion with the Divine thus attained by us".

That is the meaning of the classical understanding that Sechar Mitzva, Mitzva — the reward for fulfilling the will of God is the ability to further fulfill the will of God. Walking in a a reality fraught with danger, hypocrisy, and evil is only possible when we walk holding fast to the Godly essence that walks within us. The days ahead are rife with dangers from without and decay from within, but continuing to live our lives with the soul and sole purpose of fulfiling the will of our Beloved is the ultimate defense.

We see that again so clearly in the book of Deuteronomy: "For if you carefully keep all these commandments which I command you to do; to love HaShem your God, to walk in all His ways, and to hold fast to Him" (Deuteronomy 11:22).