And walk in God’s ways (Deuteronomy 28:9)
והלכת בדרכיו (דברים כח:ט)
I attended an event during the week together with Rabbis Josh Goldstein of Shaa`rey Shalom and Chayim Marcus of Congregation Israel. As we waited for the event to begin, Rabbi Marcus asked the 2 of us if we thought Springfield would support a fleishig kosher Chinese restaurant. It would be certainly nice to have such a restaurant in town, and we can only hope that it gets such support, but the track record of kosher establishments in town has been pathetic, except for Bagels Supreme.
The conversation then turned to kosher delis in the area, and when one such was mentioned, I responded that I don’t permit their entry into our building. When Rabbi Goldstein asked me why; I explained that this establishment is Hillul Shabbat, that it violates the Sabbath. Rabbi Goldstein’s response surprised me, he said, “It’s good to see a representative of liberal Judaism take a stand on halakha!”
As you all well know, there are clear differences of interpretation between the movements when it comes to halakha, which begs the question: What is Halakha?
The most common translation is law. In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, we find the original use of this word: והלכת בדרכיו – And walk in God’s ways (Deuteronomy 28:9).
Moshe is advising the Israelites that they are to “walk in God’s ways.” Sound advice, indeed, but how does the verb holekh – to walk, become halakha – law?
Rather than viewing the phrase “and walk in God’s ways” as good advice, most authorities consider this verse to be one of the 613 commandments, instructing us to follow in the ways of God; meaning, to obey God’s commandments.
However, I found one commentator that gives a slightly different spin to this verse, Rabbi Yosef Albo, 15th C. Spain, (Sefer Ikkarim (essay 3, chapter 29) explains that והלכת בדרכיו – And walk in God’s ways means that we must follow God’s ways of kindness. “Just as God is compassionate, so must you be compassionate…just as God performs acts of kindness, so too you must perform acts of kindness.” He further teaches, paraphrasing the Talmud (Sotah 14a), that this verse commands us to clothe the naked, visit the sick and bury the dead, as well as perform other acts of kindness in our quest to emulate the ways of God.
What a delightful way to understand the concept of halakha! Instead of the minutia of how to keep kosher; Albo emphasizes the importance of extending our hands to help those in need.
Likewise, our Sages taught in Perkei Avot, the Ethics of our Ancestors, 1:2: Ahl sh`loshim d`varim ha`olam o`made – On 3 things the world stands – ahl haTorah – ahl haAhvadoh – on worship – v`ahl gemillut chasadim – on deeds of loving kindness. Indeed, gemillut chasadim—acts of loving kindness—represent one of the three major pillars upon which the world rests.
This week’s Torah portion invites us to “walk in God’s ways,” and as we prepare for the upcoming High Holy Day season, I invite each of you to find ways to engage in acts of gemillut chasadim, and thus, we build a stronger base for our community and our world to stand upon!
Kain y`hee ratzon – ALUASA.