The Path We Walk

I am quite reliant on the navigation system in my car for driving around Los Angeles – I have named her Sylvia – and she gets me from place to place.  Often, as I type in my destination, Sylvia will give me different route options, based on time and traffic.  It is up to me to choose my route, based on what I know about the road conditions and my preference for driving.  There are always consequences and outcomes, for better or worse, with whichever path I choose.

As we read the conclusion of the Book of Leviticus this week, we are confronted with the consequences of our ancient choices as a new nation.  I don’t feel that I am merely explaining away the literal reading of the text, which seems to indicate God as vengeful or puppet-master-like – that is that God responds with human emotion to our deeds, rewarding good and punishing bad.  I don’t believe that it is God that brings this upon us – it is presumptuous and even egotistical to think that God is somehow watching each move that we make and responding to each person’s actions in the world.  This is the God that perhaps made some sense to our ancestors, a God so powerful and strong, that could destroy the most powerful enemy without hesitation, without remorse. But is that really God’s purpose, God’s role in the world?

I say not.  However, when we choose well, we will live well; when we choose poorly, we will bring the difficulties and challenges upon ourselves.  When the Torah says that if we violate the covenant, God will “scorn” us (Leviticus 26:30) it is a statement not about God but about us. It means that our unethical and unspiritual behaviors will come between us and God. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, these actions will “have separated between you and your God” (Isaiah 58:2). The result of that separation will be that we are no longer be connected to the blessings that result from walking the path of “acting justly, loving kindness and walking humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). The quality of our live comes from the path that we walk.  God remains constant and God’s love for us abides; it is we who distance ourselves from God. It is for each of us to choose to act in a way that either connects us to God or that separates us from God.

The iconic Hasidic master, Menachem Mendel Morganstern, the Kotzker Rebbe (late 18th Century), was sitting with some of his younger disciples, studying Talmud. One of the students looked up and said, “With all due respect, Rebbe, we study day in and day out. Yet at times I feel a great despair. Rebbe, where is God?” The Kotzker Rebbe stopped and pondered the student’s question. After a moment, he smiled and said, “God is whenever we let God in.” God is always there, waiting for us with love and acceptance as we choose our path; this Divine presence has the power to heal the soul and to move along our path with us so that we can know that we are not alone.

[Bechukotai 2014]

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