Parashat Bechukotai opens with a seemingly clear teaching:
אם בחקתי תלכו ואת מצותי תשמרו ועשיתם אתם… ונתתי גשמיכם בעתם (ויקרא כ-״ר):
If you walk in my ordinances (בחוקתי) and keep my commandments (מצותי) and do them, I will give you your rains in their seasons… (Bechukotai 26:3-4)
Rashi (quoting Sifra, Bechukotai 1:1-2) asks what it means to “walk in my ordinances”. He explains that this clearly teaches us that “one must study Torah painstakingly”, one must learn and observe the laws correctly.
Seforno, quoting Ezekiel 33:15, learns from הלך החיים בחקת that he who walks in the ordinances of God “follows the laws of life.”
While at first glance these two verses might lead us to read them primarily as a call to observance and obedience to the laws and prescriptions given to us by the Torah, there are two approaches that open up another view of the understanding of these lines.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary on the Torah, draws our attention to what humans must do to fulfill their part of the contract with God. He sees the fulfillment of
“ה׳ בחקתי ללכת” and “מצוותיו ועשית שמירת” as the work that God asks of us, namely “to establish physical, social and political salvation”.
God will add everything else.
Rabbi Hirsch’s invitation is forceful and pleading, inviting us to educate ourselves “by studying and taking to heart the commandments of God to become spiritually enlightened and conscientious people. By “doing His commandments (we) become executors of justice and love.”
God’s will, as Rabbi Hirsch understands it, places the Jews and their country in “such harmonious accord that nothing will stand in the way of them and everything will work together.” All this is then “nothing other than to favor and complete the realization of the Divine Will on human earth”.
Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl writes in his Torah commentary, “The Light of the Eyes”: “The human form as it exists in the spiritual universe originated first in the divine mind, the world of thought. Only then did God bring him into actuality as a physical body, just as he was above in spiritual form.
Humans live fully when, as Rabbi Hirsch says, they fulfill God’s commandments.
Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl expresses this thought in such a way that “a person must be careful not to deny both the thought and the action (of God) by transgressing the Torah, because (the Torah) is the image by which God first designed the world in his mind.”
According to the scriptures, it is exactly in the image of God (Genesis 1.27) that (God) created humans with the “ability to understand and discern” (Rashi ad loc.), which expresses that our likeness makes reference to the human intellect rather than the body.
Rabbi Hirsch’s explanation and Rabbi Menachem Nahum’s commentary of Chernobyl meet both in their connection of humans created in “the image of God” and in the approach of “walking in His ways” in observance. loving and conscious of the given laws.
Walking also means “never saying you’ve arrived; because, everywhere, you will be a passing traveler” (Edmond Jabès).
By walking in his ways, humans will “become enlightened and conscientious” and draw closer to God. Humans will live in the image He created, studying and taking to heart the commandments of God and others related to the source of His creation.
They will “acknowledge God in all their ways” and “He will make (their) paths smooth and harmonious” (Proverbs 3:6). They will know and understand their likeness and what it implies and demands.
And according to many of our commentators, they – by walking in His ordinances, keeping His commandments and doing them – will then also be satisfied in the physical realm, where soul and body meet.
There will be rains in their seasons, and there will be food, drink, and sustenance “and everything else.”
Shoshana Ruerup works as a painter and Montessori teacher. Since 2021, she has been part of the International Halacha Scholars program at Ohr Torah Stone. She lives with her family in Berlin, Germany.