My ordinances you shall do, and My statutes you shall observe, to walk with them, I am the Lord, Your G-d.
What does the Torah mean “to walk with them?”
The Ksav Sofer, a famous Hungarian rabbi, commented that the words “to walk with them” mean that a person needs to walk from one level to the next level. That is, a person should constantly keep on growing and elevating himself.
It is not enough to keep on the same level that you were on the previous day. Rather, each day should be a climb higher than the day before. When difficult tests come your way, you might not always appreciate them. The only way to keep on elevating yourself is to keep passing more and more difficult life-tests. View every difficulty as a means of elevating yourself by applying the appropriate Torah principles. At the end of each day, ask yourself, “What did I do today to elevate myself a little higher?” If you cannot find an answer, ask yourself, “What can I plan to do tomorrow to elevate myself?”
-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Acharei Mot–Kedoshim
I’m getting a little tired of these “tests.” They don’t seem to be helping me. Worse, they don’t seem to be helping anyone else, either.
Let me explain.
In continuing to read Rudolph’s and Willitts’ book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations, I arrived at “Chapter 6: Messianic Jewish Ethics,” written by Russ Resnik. It’s interesting that when we think of Jesus, we usually think of his mercy, his grace, or his compassion, but it’s a little unusual to consider his ethics. And yet, even Jews who are not believers, when they read the Gospels, find the ethics of Jesus are undeniably Jewish.
A generation later, the Orthodox Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide commented on the Sermon on the Mount, “In all this messianic urgency toward humanization God wills for all the children of Adam and toward the humanization of this earth, in the deathless power of hope that finds in reliance on ‘the above’ the courage to go ‘forward,’ Jesus of Nazareth was ‘the central Jew,’ as Martin Buber called him, the one who spurs us all to emulation.”
-Resnik, pg 82
Resnik states that “Yeshua fully embodies the image of God, which is placed upon humankind from the beginning: ‘God created mankind in his own image’ (Gen 1:27).” He also refers to the first man and woman as “divine image bearers” and further says:
…the divine image is obviously not a physical resemblance, but neither is it an abstract spiritual resemblance. Rather, it entails representing God through active engagement in creation. This understanding of the image of God gives rise to the Jewish idea that God does ethics before we do, that our ethical behavior is not just a matter of obedience, or even pleasing God, but of reflecting God and his nature, fulfilling the assignment to bear the divine image.
-Resnik, pg 84
In other words, even before the commandments to do good and to walk with God’s ordinances and statues were recorded in the Torah, they were humanity’s built-in imperative to do good because God does good and we are made in His image. When we do good, we are a reflection of the image of our Creator. Resnik provides a quote from the Talmud to cement his point.
What does it mean, “You shall walk after the Lord your God?” Is it possible for a person to walk and follow in God’s presence? Does not the Torah say “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire”? (Deut 4:24). But it means to walk after the attributes of the Holy One, Blessed be He. Just as He clothed the naked, so you too clothe the naked, as it says “And the Lord made the man and his wife leather coverings and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). The Holy One, Blessed be He, visits the ill, as it says, “And God visited him in Elonei Mamreh” (Gen 18:1), so you shall visit the ill. The Holy One, Blessed by He, comforts the bereaved, as it says, “And it was after Abraham died that God blessed his son Isaac…” (Gen 25:11), so too shall you comfort the bereaved. The Holy One, Blessed be He, buries the dead, as it says, “And He buried him in the valley” (Deut 34:6), so you too bury the dead.
-b. Sotah 14a
quoted by Resnik, ibid
Although Resnik didn’t cite this portion of the Gospels, the following seems to fit rather well as an illustration of “walking with God.”
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
As I write this (most of it, anyway), it is early Tuesday morning, and yesterday, several explosions occurred at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring and maiming many others. To walk with God and reflect His image is to do good under all circumstances, to visit the sick and injured, and to bury the dead, but I despair for humanity. Although we certainly can find some helpers involved in response to this terrible expression of violence, how many more people exist who are capable of committing similar acts of hostility or worse? It always seems like we struggle and struggle in this unending battle of good vs. evil, and to what gain?
Batman (played by Christian Bale): Then why do you want to kill me?
The Joker (played by Heath Ledger): [giggling] I don’t, I don’t want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, NO! No. You… you… complete me.
Batman: You’re garbage who kills for money.
The Joker: Don’t talk like one of them. You’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak, like me! They need you right now, but when they don’t, they’ll cast you out, like a leper! You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.
The Joker: We really should stop this fighting, otherwise we’ll miss the fireworks!
Batman: There won’t *be* any fireworks!
The Joker: And here… we… go!
[Silence. Nothing happens. Confused, Joker turns to look at the clock, which shows that it’s past midnight and neither ferry has blown the other up]
Batman: [triumphantly] What were you trying to prove? That deep down, everyone’s as ugly as you? You’re alone!
The Joker: [sighs] Can’t rely on anyone these days, you have to do everything yourself, don’t we!
-from the film The Dark Knight (2008)
In this scene, Batman and the Joker are debating the nature of humanity. Batman believes that human beings are basically good, while the Joker believes that “these civilized people, they’ll eat each other.” In the film, the situation that the Joker sets up to prove his point fails. The people involved don’t blow each other up, but risk their own lives in order to show compassion, even for people they don’t know, even for criminals.
But it’s just a movie, a work of fiction. People are good in the movie because they’re written that way.
What about people in reality?
According to Resnik, we are also “written” to do good because we are made in the image of God and should “naturally” reflect His goodness. However, the history of the human race seems to prove otherwise. We are not good, we have not been good, and in spite of what “progressives” may believe, we are not getting better. We simply shift around the types of “badness” we commit and just call it “good.”
But wait. I’ve already been down this path once before and I know where it leads. It leads to a dark, depressing dead end where no one will follow you and where no one wants to go. Do I really want to go there again? I probably will. Given the nature of my personality, I visit that place periodically. But do I want to stay this time?
When I complained previously that all the heroes were dead, I was reminded “All the more reason to be the “called out” ones and live counter to our culture.” It’s true. The fewer of us there are, the harder we’re supposed to work for what we know is good and right. It gets more lonely and more scary, but God didn’t ask us to serve Him in a world of truth and light. If everything were perfect, He wouldn’t need us to do Tikkun Olam. It’s in the face of terrorism, tragedy, and horror that we need to be especially faithful to the tasks that God has given us. No matter how discouraging things get sometimes, we still have to work and we still have to wait.
We’re all waiting for something to happen to save us. Christians and Jews are waiting for the Messiah. The inquisitions happened and the Messiah didn’t come. Pogroms beyond measure have happened and the Messiah didn’t come. Crusaders raped, pillaged, and murdered, with the blood of their victims running through the streets like water and the Messiah didn’t come. Wars have slaughtered millions and the Messiah didn’t come. The Nazis murdered six million Jews and countless other “undesirables” and the Messiah didn’t come. Someone blew up a bunch of people at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring hundreds and Messiah didn’t come.
What’s God waiting for? Is He waiting for us to “walk in His ordinances and His statutes?” Is He waiting for us to become the people He designed us to be? Is He waiting for us to follow Him in the footsteps of the Messiah? He’s been waiting a long time. He’s waiting for us to do what He sent us here to do. He’s waiting for us to live out His image. If the Messiah is the ultimate human image of God, we share that with him as his disciples. We must hold on. I must hold on. One little dip in the pool of despair, a couple of laps just for good measure, then out again, dry off, get dressed, and get going.
“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
How ironic that I should hear the voice of Messiah from the mouth of Gandhi, but then I think Gandhi understood Jesus better than many of his followers, including me. This is why God created the Shabbat…to give our injured spirits a rest in Him. Someday the rest will be perfect. Until then, we must continue to carry the image of God to a suffering and disbelieving world. Without that, there is no hope.