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Friday, May 16, 2014

Parshat Behukotai: Walking with the God Within

Dear Hevre/community,

I know I have been absent since Rosh Hashanah, but now I hope to get back to writing commentaries and other musings on a more frequent (hopefully weekly) basis.

I am starting with an edited/slightly rewritten version of a d'var torah/commentary which I wrote a few years back.
I hope you find it meaningful.

Shabbat Shalom,
This week's parashah/portion is Behukotai (Vayikra /  Leviticus 26:3-27:34). This is the final parashah in the book of Vayikra, and in it God tells Moses to say to 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 exactly what this punishment will entail.

Personally, I have never liked "reward and punishment theology," nor do I take it literally. But taken as a metaphor there is always a lesson to be learned.

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.

When God begins to talk about the consequences for not "walking with God," the phrasing used is somewhat unusual.  In his translation which Everett Fox translates the statement as "if you walk with me in opposition, then I will walk with you in opposition".  And this warning is found three times in the parashah, and each time God talks about the people walking "in opposition with" the threatened punishments  become more severe. Yet, in the end, in spite of these warnings, threats, and accusations, neither the people nor God abandon each the other. In the end they are still portrayed as walking with one another, even if (at times) they are in opposition. 

It is almost as if God is saying, in spite of all the threats, "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 seem to act in ways that are  in opposition to God's desires, God is still with us. However, in these times, one might say that God is walking with us, accompanying us, but God is not not walking b'tokh/within us.

It is as if God becomes a shadow, or even an adversary, but one who is prepared at any moment to become our support and comfort, if we so choose.  God is an adversary there to challenge and confront us, not to beat us down and defeat us. In this paradigm, it is our actions, our opposition, which prevents God from being within us.  And it is our actions which will allow God to be within us once again. As the  Hassidic rabbi Menakhem Mendel of Kotzk said, "God dwells where we let God in." But in this interpretation we can also say that when we don't let God in, God is still walking beside us ready to come in when we decide to open the door.

For each person "letting God in," means something different. To me it means allowing the divine energy, that in our universe which is the source of our ability to bring peace, love, compassion and goodness into the world to flow through us. 

When we open ourselves to the divine energy, which is also that which connects us to everything and everyone else, 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, it is the opposite.  When we shut ourselves off from the divine, then we shut ourselves off from others and from all that is good in the word.  Then it is indeed as if the threats mentioned in the parashah come to fruition.  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, suffocating 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 divinity.  But the choice is ours.                                                                      

The other day on Facebook (of all places!) I saw a humorous post.  It simply said "When one door closes, another one opens......or you can simply open the door that closed.  That's how doors work!" Though I laughed at this, I actually think there is an important message her which work in terms of my theology.  For, in the context of this commentary, we must remember that when a door closes, it is often our own actions (our ego, stubbornness, resentment, fear, etc.) which close the door.  

If God is on the other side of the door we have two choices.  As the originally saying goes, we can wait around for another door (or a window, as is found in some versions) to miraculously appear, or we can take the first step and reach for the knob to open open the door ourselves.  In doing so, we know that God, the source of goodness and compassion which connects us to the world, is waiting on the other side.  God is waiting for us to take the first step and open the door we shut so we can we can walk through.  Then God can once again be within us, banishing the ego it's negativity, and giving us the ability to love, to be compassionate towards all of creation and work to make the world a better place.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom.

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