Noah: Walking with God

While my sermons can all be found on my Sermons Page, I’m going to start publishing them as posts as well.

 

Walking with God

In the past few years, the University of Judaism has put out a series of books with teaching related to God. One of them is called Walking with God. What does it mean to walk with God? Good question! We will look at two bible characters, Enoch and Noah, who both walked with God.

The sixth Aliyah in last week’s Torah portion ended “And Enoch (חנוך) walked with God and was no more, for God took him.”  What it mean that Enoch was no more?  Rashi and Ibn Ezra comment that God taking Enoch refers to Enoch’s death. Rashi said that though Enoch was righteous, he was easily misled, which is why God took him before his time. The Baal HaTurim has a different reading: that God took Enoch and put him in the heavens.  He begins with Job 16:19 “Surely now my witness is in heaven, he who can testify for me is on high.”  He next shows that the word for “my witness,” עדי, has the same Gematria as חנוך and how the word for “my testifier,” ושהדי, has the same Gematria as מטטרון, the innermost angel to God.[1]  3 Enoch, a pseudepigraphical book in the hechalot literature which tells of Rabbi Ishmael’s encounter of Metatron in his journey to heaven, is the first place that describes Enoch’s transformation into Metatron.[2]  According to this view, Enoch thus is not merely someone who dies an early death but rather serves God as a heavenly being.

Both of these interpretations are very different than those regarding Noah, the other biblical figure who walked with God. This week’s portion began “Noah was a righteous man, pure in his generation. Noah walked with God.” Rashi here says that Noah walking with God means that he needed God’s support in order to be righteous. He takes this in concert with his comment of Noah being righteous in his generation-that if Noah was in a different generation, say Avraham’s, he would not be considered righteous. Kli Yakar, however, provides an alternative interpretation: that Noah was unwavering in his faith in God, not turning to the idolatrous gods of others. Once again there are two ways to look at walking with God: either someone who needs support to avoid the dangers of the world or someone with unwavering devotion to and faith in God.

Which definition of walking with God do you prefer? I prefer the latter, and this is how I view all biblical characters who are described as walking with God, whether it is Enoch, Noah or Abraham. When one walks on a path in life, his or her goal is generally to take a straightforward, unwavering path, rather than one that veers uncontrollably in multiple directions. Therefore, walking with God would be choosing a path of straightforwardness and righteousness through unwaveringly following God’s commandments, rather than what one feels like at the spur of a moment or what the media tells one to do.

How can we apply this lesson to our lives? For us to walk with God, we need to stand firm in what we believe in: to live an ethical life, follow commandments and bring holiness into the world. This viewpoint is similar to one of the definitions of halacha, Jewish law. The rabbis compare halacha to the word halach, or go, arguing that halacha is the path in life on which one walks. Let us choose the path of walking with God, as our ancestors did, and in doing so, our lives will be enriched and our spirits will be whole. In order to increase our feelings of godliness, let us turn to Page 777 in Siddur Hadash and continue responsively with a reading by Abraham Joshua Heschel.

[1] The second Gematria is a little off, even when one spells Metatron’s name מיטטרון.

[2] Gershom Scholem’s rendition of this section of 3 Enoch is This Enoch, whose flesh was turned to flame, his veins to fire, his eye-lashes to flashes of lightning, his eye-balls to flaming torches, and whom God placed on a throne next to the throne of glory, received after this heavenly transformation the name Metatron.”

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