Thursday, October 26, 2006

Walking with God

What does it mean to walk with God? This week’s parsha begins with the words:

אלה תולדות נח, נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדורתיו, את האלוהים התהלך נח

These are the generations of Noah:
Noah was a righteous and pure man in his generation.
With God walked Noah.

With God walked Noah.” The traditional commentators here compare Noah with Avraham who tells his servant that he walks before God (Gen. 24:40).

But, when Moshe commands the Children of Israel, he neither asks them to walk with or before God. Rather, they should walk after God (Devarim 13:5). The Ramban comments that this after is not a reference to a physical position. Rather, it is a command to follow (after) the counsel of God and to seek insight into the future only from God and God’s true prophets.

The Rabbis of the Talmud also thought this after has nothing to do with a physical position, but is rather about following the ways of God. They say it's about following God's attributes (מדות/midot). That is, to imitate the ways of God, to follow after God's ways (Sotah 14a):

Just as God clothed Adam and Eve, so too shall you clothe the naked. Just as God visited the sick Avraham at the Oaks of Mamre (Gen. 18:1), so too shall you visit the sick
These last words are one of the great foundational texts in Judaism for the command of Bikur Holim, the command to visit the sick. This is a command not just for Rabbis, but for lay people as well. For all of us.

There are two more weeks before our Torah reading cycle will bring us to that scene of the suffering Avraham at the Oaks of Mamre. Is there someone you can help in those next two weeks? The commentators say that the only thing God did for Avraham then was visit with him, just to be with him for a while. God didn’t even say anything.

Thus, in our efforts to walk after God, we don’t have to bring any great words with us when we visit the sick. You just need to bring yourself. That is all you need to perform this great mitzvah, and this is all you need to console and uplift the suffering. There is no better time than now.

May your coming week be a sweet one.

One element of the Jewish calendar is the weekly Torah reading, or parsha. This coming Shabbat's reading is Noah, Gen. 6:9-11:32. It features the story of the Flood, as well as the Tower of Bavel. It is the last reading before the Torah turns its attention away from the story of the creation of the world and of mankind as a whole, and, instead, turns to the more specific story of the creation and development of the Jewish people. Next week's parsha -- Lech Lecha -- begins the story of Avraham, that great first Jew whose story begins with God's emphatic call to leave his native land for the Land of Canaan.

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