How to Walk with G-d

How are we supposed to live our lives?  It seems fairly simple when we look at Parshat Ki Tavo. The portion states “G-d will establish us as His holy people, as He swore to you, if you keep the commandments of G-d and walk in his ways.”[1] What does it mean to walk in G-d’s ways? In words attributed to the Prophet Elijah,כל השונה הלכות מובטח לו שהוא חלק מעולם הבא, שנאמר “הליכות עולם לו:” אל תקרא הליכות אלא הלכות  “Whoever repeats laws, it is clear that he will be part of the world to come, as it says (Habbakuk 6:3) ‘All the paths of the world are his’-do not read paths, rather laws.”[2] This pun between the words הליכות, or paths, and הלכות, or laws, is meant to make them viewed interchangeably. What, however, does it mean to walk in G-d’s ways? Here we go to Eliyahu Rabbah, a Midrash which is ascribed to the Prophet Elijah, which states “and you should walk in His ways-in the ways of heaven. Just as the ways of heaven are to be merciful and have mercy on the wicked, to accept them in repentance, so too shall you be merciful to one another.” [3] This is exactly what it says back in Parshat Eikev, “Now O Israel, what does G-d demand of you? Only this: to revere G-d and walk in G-d’s paths, to love G-d and to serve G-d with all your heart and soul.”[4] As Rashi states, “Just as G-d is merciful, so too shall you be merciful. Just as G-d does acts of lovingkindness, so too shall you do acts of lovingkindness.”[5]

Our job is clearly to walk in G-d’s ways. If we do so, we will be rewarded for our efforts. If not, we will be punished by the curses enumerated in our parsha. In line with the rabbinic principle of  מדה כנגד מדה, what goes around comes around. However, does this philosophy work for us as 21st century Jews? I worry that it too easily gives us an excuse for blaming calamities and natural disasters on our sins. Our goal therefore cannot be to simply live in a kumbaya world where everyone gets along with one another and all works perfectly. Similarly, it is counterproductive for us to see every bad thing that happens to us as a curse from G-d.

A Mishnah from Tractate Berachot enumerates how the philosophy of Ki Tavo is not necessarily one to enumerate. It reads “a person is required to bless G-d for the evil just as he blesses G-d for the good. As it is written, ‘you shall love the LORD your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.”[6] How does one love G-d with all their might? Through each measure (both good and bad) that G-d gives us.[7]  What matters is not what happens to us as much as how we respond to the cards we are dealt. As Arthur Kurzweil said on Tuesday, to say גם זו לטובה. To walk with G-d is not to praise Him when it is easy, but rather when things aren’t going the way we like. Of course this is easier said than done but it is what it means to truly walk with G-d and be a ירא שמים, one who is G-d fearing.

Our laws and our traditions are pathways to teach us the proper way to act in the world. They demonstrate to us how we are supposed to conduct ourselves even when we are struggling with our own personal situations. That’s why the remedy given for someone who is “troubled” is to help one in need, so that the person does a mitzvah while at the same time feels better about his/her situation. Jewish laws, the halakhot, are supposed to guide us on the path of making a positive difference in the world. Without the goal of being G-dlike through helping the needy and doing good, even when we’re feeling down or upset, we will not be on a path towards G-dliness. Through helping others with love and kindness we will ensure that we are blessed at all times-as our parsha says ברוך אתה בבואך וברוך אתה בצאתך-you shall be blessed in your coming and in your going.[8]

We see an example of this today as we honor the great milestone of Phil’s 90th birthday. Phil is what we call a gute neshama, such a caring, sweet person. The same can be said for his dear wife Pearl and his devoted daughter Barbara, who is the backbone of our shul.

We are also remembering an אשת חיל, Gladys z”l who was the matriarch of her family. As her shloshim ends, we pray that her sons find comfort as they continue to say Kaddish in her memory.

[1] Deuteronomy 28:9

[2] Babylonian Talmud Megillah 28b

[3] Eliyahu Rabbah Chapter 24, Section At the time when a person is honored.

[4] Deuteronomy 11:22

[5] Rashi on Deuteronomy 11:22

[6] Detueronomy 6:4

[7] Mishnah Berchot 9:5

[8] Deuteronomy 28:6

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