Walking in the way of Torah
Bechukotai starts with a famous invitation from Hashem, “If you will walk in my laws…” after which He lists the many blessings that we will receive for doing so. But what does it mean to “walk” in Hashem’s laws? Is it the same as “keeping” His laws? Surely not, from the fact that a different word is used. Rashi says it means “to labour in Torah”, in other words the ongoing journey of Torah study.
As my teacher, Rabbi Azriel Goldfein of blessed memory, taught me, mitzvot are done in the finite realm, and they have a beginning and an end, but Torah is timeless and infinite. Its study is a never-ending journey of greater depth and appreciation of Hashem’s mitzvot. We “keep” the mitzvot when we do them, but we “walk in them” every time that we think about them, consider them, learn them, and love them.
The Sfat Emet – Rabbi Yehuda Leib Altar of Ger – gives a different explanation. In every situation in life, we must ask ourselves, “What is it Hashem wants me to do?” In other words, our attitude towards mitzvot shouldn’t be to get on with our lives and do what we want to do, except when there is a specific mitzva that guides our actions, but to integrate the values, lessons, and texture of the mitzvot into everything we do, to allow them to change who we are and how we approach life.
Rabbi Berel Wein tells a wonderful story of one of his teachers, Rabbi Alexander Rosenberg, who was approached by a man who wanted to make a deal in the kashrut industry that wasn’t entirely kosher (if you take my meaning). For a long time, Rosenberg sat in the room in silence as the man waxed lyrical about the advantages for Rosenberg of the back-room agreement, until finally, Rosenberg looked him in the eye and asked, “And what does G-d say?” The man left in consternation, but Wein took the idea with him all his life (and I try to as well).
There’s a phenomenon I have observed that I would call “socially frum” – that a person keeps Torah and mitzvot not out of conviction or a wonderful relationship with Hashem, but because it’s what they feel is expected of them. They’ll do all that’s required, but somehow, it hasn’t permeated their being. I’m not – G-d forbid – critical of such a person. Any mitzva is a good mitzva in my book. But we hope and pray that such people (and all of us) will learn not just to keep the mitzvot, but to walk in them – to study, to do, to integrate. May Hashem bless us with a way of life in which we see His Torah as an invaluable life-enriching resource, and may we consequently be blessed with all of the blessings of the parsha.