Thursday, November 02, 2006

Walking with God (II)

Last week, we contrasted between Noah’s walking with God and how Avraham walks before God in this week’s parsha. But there is another important difference besides physical position. With Noah, the Torah is just describing something about Noah and what he does. But for Avraham, the walking comes in the form of a command:
And HaShem appeared to Avraham and said: "I am El Shaddai -- Walk before me and be perfect!!" (Gen. 17:1)
This is just one of many times in this week’s parsha where God issues a command. In fact, the reading begins with one: the command of lech lecha – go! – to Avraham. “Go from your native land. . . to the land I will show you.” <>
The command to “walk before me” is, significantly, followed immediately by a promise, a promise to make an agreement – a covenant or
ברית/brit in Hebrew – with Avraham.

A brit, like any agreement, requires two parties. Each party agrees to do something for the other party in exchange for what the other party promises.

God’s promise here is to make Avraham a father of many nations and that God will be with his descendents throughout the generations. Avraham’s side of the deal is that he – and his descendents – will practice circumcision, ברית מילה/brit milah in Hebrew.

Circumcision is a most physical of acts. You might have expected God to demand that Avraham promise something of his mind – that he believe in God, for example. But Judaism commands not only that we show our faith through our beliefs, but also through acts of our bodies. Sometimes those acts are sacrifices. They remind us that our bodies – as much as we may treasure them – are only on loan to us. God has simply entrusted them to us.

So many of us in this materialist, self-gratification-obsessed day and age have lost any sense of being commanded by God and have forgotten that we are merely stewards over our bodies. So many people have forgotten that a relationship with God is a two-way covenant – they think that it is God who should serve us, and forget the need to also serve God.

In my work in the hospital, every day I see the difference between those who have forgotten, and those who remember we are mere stewards over our bodies and that we are commanded by God. Those who forget despair easily in the face of illness. But those who remember are the ones who have the strength to do what I call “Choose Life.”

Choosing life sounds like a no-brainer – isn’t it the easiest thing in the world? Why wouldn’t a person choose to live? But, the Torah teaches us that choosing life is not easy.

The words “Choose Life” themselves are uttered by Moses in the wilderness to the Children of Israel (Deut. 30:19). He begs them to choose life. He pleads. He cajoles.

Certainly, Moses would not have had to plea so desperately if choosing life was so easy. Giving up – choosing death, in effect – is much easier. It was much easier for the Children of Israel to choose the death of the beautiful, but empty and idolatrous, promises of the Golden Calf. So, too, it’s much easier for the drug addict to choose death than it is to endure pains involved in choosing life – the physical pain of detoxification, the emotional pain of facing how much you have hurt the people you loved and how many opportunities you have squandered for the sake of some powder, and the pains of the setbacks and relapses, and the starting all over again that they entail. So, too, for the person who has been in a terrible car accident, it is much easier to lay in bed and feel sorry for one’s self than it is to endure the pain and struggles and disappointments of months of physical therapy.

Walking the sometimes challenging road of choosing life is so much easier when we have God in our lives, when we have God walking with us.

When we know that our bodies truly belong to God and that God commands us, a weight is lifted from upon us. God takes the weight. God takes a piece of the burden of helping us choose life. When God is in our lives, we know that it is not truly our choice. God has already chosen for us. God has commanded us to choose life. Our job is just to discern as best we can how to do that, and to go on with the work. God will walk with us all the way.

I hope that you will find a way to bring – and keep – God into your life and that you will, as Avraham did, walk before God as a servant walks before the King who the servant is in service to. And I hope that the place in which you walk will help you to truly choose life when the day comes when you are challenged or tested.


One element of the Jewish calendar is the weekly Torah reading, or parsha. This coming Shabbat's reading is Lech Lecha, Gen. 12:1-17:27. Here the Torah turns its attention away from the creation of mankind as a whole and toward the specific story of the Jewish people. The parsha begins with an order and a promise – God’s command to Avraham to go to the Land of Canaan and God’s promise to make Avraham a great nation there. The parsha ends with a dramatic act of commitment that Avraham makes to God and that has marked the Jewish people throughout the generations – the act of ברית מילה/brit milah, or circumcision. The parsha also includes the stories of Avraham and Sarah’s journey to Egypt, the story of Abraham rescuing his nephew Lot during the 'War of the Four Kings' and the story of Hagar and her son Yishmael. The so-called 'Covenant between the Pieces' can also be found here.

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