Walking In Footsteps

The Midrash offers the following parable to illustrate the advantages of being holy. This can be compared to a simple businessman who was going along when he met a kohen gadol. Obviously, it would be a great honor for the businessman to travel with the kohen gadol. Not surprisingly, when he found out that they were both going in the same direction, he asked the kohen gadol permission to accompany him. “My son, I am a kohen. Therefore I am only permitted to travel on a pure path. To avoid impurity, I must make sure that my steps do not go over any graves. If you wish to be careful to only go in a path which is appropriate for me, I will gladly allow you to join me. But if not, in the end I will leave you and go on my own pathway.”

Similarly, when Moshe broached the subject of purity with Yisrael, he said, “Because God your Lord goes with you in your camp to save you.”

Reishis Chochmah explains this Midrash. “God is absolutely holy and separate from the material world. How are we to emulate Him and become holy even regarding material matters in which we must indulge? The answer is that we must sanctify our thoughts. Holy thoughts are the root of all sanctification. The more we think about holy things the easier it will be for us to sanctify the material. And the more sanctify the material the more we will be able to sanctify our thoughts!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Path of Purity”
Niddah 71

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV)

It isn’t easy. Walking a path of holiness, I mean. It isn’t easy to be human; to be mortal and try to walk in God’s footsteps. I suppose the task seems a little more approachable for Christians when we imagine we’re walking in the footsteps of Jesus. God is just so…so vast, so infinite, so…God. Jesus, at least, we can picture as a human being, as a mortal (though not really) as one whose path we can attempt to walk with some reasonable expectation of success.

And in fact, as disciples of the Master, walking the Master’s path is exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.

Oh really?

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. –Matthew 5:48 (ESV)

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. –John 5:19 (ESV)

Oh well. Guess that didn’t work. Trying to follow Christ’s footsteps is, for all intents and purposes, trying to follow God’s footsteps. But can this be done? After all, most of us aren’t holy men or tzaddikim or saints, or “super-Christians.” Most of us are just…us, people, human.

Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the wise; rather seek what they sought.

Matsuo Bashō

Although Matsuo Bashō did not follow a Jewish or Christian religious tradition, I find his words to be most illuminating under the circumstances. As I continue to follow my own path, not only in life, but the “path” of writing this meditation, I can see there is only one goal: to seek God.

As the businessman who walked with the kohen gadol had to choose to walk a path of purity if he were to be with his holy companion, if we choose to follow God as disciples of the Master, we too must choose a path of purity. How can this be done when the world we live in is anything but sanctified and pure? As the midrash has already been explained to us, we must carry our purity with us by conforming our thoughts, emotions, and actions to those things we know are from God. We learn this path by reading the Bible, from studying the teachings it contains, by associating with others who also walk their own path as disciples of Jesus who are seeking God.

Like I said, it isn’t easy.

One of the reasons I write these meditations each day is to focus my day on following the path. I’m not always successful and both my internal states and my external environment often conspire to pull me off the trail or to stall me in one spot, sometimes for a rather lengthy sojourn. When I get distracted or even feel lost, I try to retreat to a point on the path I am sure of and one that I know contains a marker to point me in the right direction.

The Alter Rebbe repeated what the Mezritcher Maggid said quoting the Baal Shem Tov: “Love your fellow like yourself” is an interpretation of and commentary on “Love Hashem your G-d.” He who loves his fellow-Jew loves G-d, because the Jew has with in himself a “part of G-d Above.” Therefore, when one loves the Jew – i.e. his inner essence – one loves G-d.

“Today’s Day”
Friday, Menachem Av 12, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

For the past few days, I’ve written a meditation or two on the topic of love, and particularly Christian and Jewish love. We see from the quote above that for many religious Jews, loving each other and even their “inner essence,” is deeply connected to loving God. This is also true for Christians:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” –John 13:34-35 (ESV)

But in expending our love to our family, our friends, to the fellowship of believers, and to the struggling and conflicted world around us, we must never forget that to give means we must also receive. It’s not selfish to want and even need to be loved. Certainly, we can’t expect the whole world to love us and being Christians, we can in fact, expect much of the world around us to show us anything else besides love.

It’s very draining.

But we do have our families, our friends, our companions in the faith to help sustain us as we walk a path in the footsteps of God, which seems like an impossible task. Our goal is equally impossible; to seek and find God, to be perfect as He is perfect. To focus only on the light and not be distracted by the encroaching shadows. But God so loved the world and that includes us, not just as a group, but as individuals. Each of us is precious to God.

“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. –Matthew 10:26-31 (ESV)

This isn’t to say that our path will always be secure with no challenges or stress. Far from it. But it does mean that whatever we face and even when we feel that we can no longer see the next step on which to place our foot, God is there, too.

Not long ago, I wrote about fear and insecurity as a challenge to faith and urged all “secure” believers to be compassionate toward their weaker brothers and sisters. Today, while I can’t promise the easy path to anyone who is a disciple, I can promise a path, a definite direction, a concrete goal. The things of holiness and faith seem sometimes confusing and indistinct was we negotiate our way through a world built out of moral relativity and public opinion, but God is One and He is perfect and He is present and He will not abandon us…even in those times when we feel utterly alone.

You can choose to believe in a G‑d aloof from all things, a distant G‑d that leaves you in the hands of so many worldly troubles.

Or you can put your trust in a G‑d that carries you as a nursing mother carries her suckling infant by her bosom; as a father carries his child high upon his shoulders; as an eagle carries its fledgling young upon its wings.

Make room for Him and He will enter. As large as you allow your trust to be, so will be the space that He will fill.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Open Wide”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

The signs may not look the same on my path as they do on yours. The mile markers may appear completely different. Even the terrain, the scenery, the sky and the ground of my path may be totally dissimilar to your own. After all, we’re different people, at different points on the path, and with different paths to walk. And yet we have the same companion, we are following the same footprints, and we have the same goal.

We don’t follow the wise men or the sages because they are not the goal, but we take our cues from them. We seek what they sought. We seek to follow the path that leads to God. May He always walk with you and with me.

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