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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Parshat Behukotai: Walking with the God Within

Dear online community,
Once again I must apologize for missing a week. For various personal reasons, these last few weeks have been quite hectic and my blog has suffered for it. Hopefully things are now back on track and you will seeing my commentaries every week once again.
But before I continue with my commentary, I must do a bit of shameless self promotion ;-)  I am currently beginning to schedule visits to teach and learn together with communities across the country in the upcoming Jewish/academic/programming year (i.e., Sept-June, and even summer if you'd like).  If you would like to bring me to your community, please either contact me at mindfultorah@gmail.com or pass my information along to those who are doing the planning for your community for next year.  I would love to work something out so I can pay you a visit! This is true for synagogues, schools, JCCs Hillels and other campus venues, as well as non-Jewish or interfaith venues.  So please keep me in mind as you're doing your planning.
Thanks.  Now, on to my commentary....
 
This week's parashah/portion is Behukotai (Vayikra /  Leviticus 26:3-27:34) and it is the final parashah in the book of Vayikra. In this parashah, God tells Moses to inform the people that if they "walk with my statutes and observe my mitzvot/commandments," all will go well for them. However, if they do not, the heavens and earth will dry up and tragedy will befall them. The parashah then describes in detail what will happen if the people indeed do continue to ignore God's commandments.  

Though I don't take this type of "reward and punishment theology" literally, I believe that there is an important spiritual lesson to be found in this parashah

At the start of the parashah, Moses is told that if the people walk with God, then "I (God) will walk about in your midst hithalkhti b'tokh'khem)."  The simple interpretation of the  word b'tokh'khem is "in the midst of the people."  However, rabbinic commentators often interpreted it as meaning "within each individual." So if we walk in God's statutes, then God will be within each of us wherever we go.

Later in the parashah, God begins to warn the people of the consequences if they choose not to walk in God's ways. However, the phrasing used, which Everett Fox translates as "if you walk with me in opposition, then I will walk with you in opposition," is curious. Furthermore, this warning is found three times in the parashah God is abandoning one another, for they are. And each time God accuses the people of walking "in opposition with" God the threatened punishments will bebecomes more severe. In spite of these threats and accusations however, the neither the people nor God is abandoning the other. For they are still portrayed as walking with one another, even if in opposition. 

It is almost as if God is saying, "no matter how much you may seem to reject me, you can never get rid of me." But beyond that, the text is also saying that no matter how much we might go against "God's will" or walk in ways other than those which are prescribed for us, God is still with us -- even if we have made it so that God is in opposition. When walking with God in opposition, one might say then that God is walking with us, but God is not not b'tokh/within us.

When we choose not to walk in God's ways, then God is simply walking next to us. It is almost as if God becomes a shadow, or even an adversary, but one that is prepared at any moment to become our support and comfort, if we so choose. It is our actions, our opposition, which prevents God from being within us.  And it is our actions that will allow God to be within us once again. As the great Hassidic rebbe Menahem Mendel of Kotzk said, "God dwells where we let God in." In the context of this verse, it seems that God is simply walking along side us, waiting for each of us to let God in.

For each person "letting God in," means something different. To some it has a more anthropomorphic sense; to others it is more mystical. To others, such as myself, it can mean allowing the Power that brings peace and goodness into the world to flow through us. 

When we let got dwell within us, it is as if our world is flourishing and abundant.  But when we walk in opposition to God, when we don't follow the path that brings holiness into our lives and the world, then it is as if the heavens and earth have closed themselves off from us and we are living in a world that is arid, parched and lacking in beauty.  But the spiritual steps we must take in order to bring back beauty and abundance are much simpler than one might imagine. And they are different for each of us and at different points in our lives

Moment by moment we must each pay attention and determine what "letting God in" means to us and what we are doing that may be preventing God from dwelling within us. In this way, we can make our lives and our world better by walking with the God within us and infusing all that we do with the oneness and holiness of the Divine.

Shabbat Shalom.

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