Walking With God
Can We Truly Walk Closely With God?
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
In the book of Leviticus, the Bible suggests to us that if we follow God's will, we will be rewarded with "walking with God" – but what does that even mean? It's not like we can 'physically' walk with God. And secondly, and most curiously, that language of "walking with God" is the very same language that we find in the story of the Garden of Eden. But what are we supposed to make of that connection? Adam failed to walk with God, so what's the lesson? How can we understand what 'walking with God' really means in the Bible?
By comparing these parallels in Leviticus and Genesis, Rabbi Fohrman uncovers a sort of hidden manual on how we can strengthen our relationship with God. By understanding where Adam went wrong, we can find a practical lesson of what it means to walk closer with God every day. Join Rabbi Fohrman as he uncovers the loving, joyful moment of togetherness with God.
Hi everybody, this is Rabbi David Fohrman, and welcome to Parshat Bechukotai. You are watching Aleph Beta.
Let me begin by asking you a question which seems to have nothing to do with this week's Parsha: Way back in the Garden of Eden why did God ask Adam and Eve where they were? They've just eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they're sort of pitifully crouching behind this bush, trying to hide, and God says, where are you – Ayeka? Was that just a 'gotcha' question? Why did He ask a question that He already knew the answer to?
I want to suggest to you it wasn't a 'gotcha' question at all. It was something much deeper, much more poignant than this, and the clues to seeing this lie in this week's parsha.
Walking with God
In the video I did last year on Parshat Bechukotai I discussed with you a strange but fascinating connection between this week's parsha, Bechukotai, and the original story of the Garden of Eden. I urge you to go back and take a look at this. Now, one of those connections that we talked about last year might just be the key to answering the question: Why God asks ‘where are you?’ way back in the Garden of Eden?
In this week's parsha, God says that if you keep My laws, Vehit'halachti betochechem – “I will walk amongst you.” Now that language too appears all the way back in Eden. In the original Garden of Eden story, Adam and Eve hear the voice of God walking through the garden in the afternoon – Kol Hashem Elokim mit'halech ba'gan leru'ach hayom. It's actually the same grammatical formulation. So Rashi here in Bechukotai quotes this very strange Midrash that says that if you keep My commands; Atayel imochem b'Gan Eden – “I'm going to stroll with you in the garden.”
Correcting Adam's Failure to Walk Closer with God?
It seems that the Sages were aware of these copious parallels between the garden story and the Bechukotai story and they seem to be saying that we're getting a second crack at the bat, we're getting a chance to succeed where we once failed way back in the original garden things didn't work out so well. We didn't really get a chance to stroll with God lovingly, with a great sense of togetherness in the garden. Instead we were crouching and hiding after having eaten from the forbidden fruit. We heard God walking alone in the garden. But it doesn't have to be that way, God doesn't have to walk alone in the garden. He can walk with us. That's Vehit'halachti betochechem – “we'll stroll together in the garden.” We have a chance to do it right this time around.
Okay so I want to stop and explore this idea a little bit more with you. Last year when we talked about this idea we talked about it in terms of the Garden of Eden story shedding light on what's happening over here in Parshat Bechukotai. But the truth is, when the Torah actually links two text like this, the implications of that linkage, I think, go both ways. It's not just that you can understand Bechukotai better by looking back at the garden. You can understand the garden better by looking at Bechukotai. That's what I want to do with you now. I want to actually say, how is Bechukotai shedding light for us on the meaning of the story of the Garden of Eden?
A Closer Bible Study on Walking with God
So with this in mind, let's focus a little bit more carefully on this Hitpa'el form of the word Halach. We were talking about these words; Vehit'halachti betochechem. Back in the Garden of Eden, that matches up with the words; Kol Hashem Elokim mit'halech ba'gan leru'ach hayom. Both of those are the Hitpa'el form of the word Halach. What does it mean to conjugate Halach in Hitpa'el form? Usually when you take a verb and you put it in the Hitpa'el form it makes the verb reflexive, which means to say that the subject is doing it to himself. If you take the verb Lavash which means ‘to dress,’ if you make it Lehitlabesh – put it in Hitpa'el form – then all of a sudden it's going to mean ‘to get oneself dressed.’
So now let's play that little game with Halach. If Halach means to walk what would Lehithalech mean? At face value it seems to mean to take yourself for a walk. When God was Mit'halech in the garden, maybe He was taking Himself for a walk?
But there is another intriguing possibility. You see, it turns that grammatically, Hitpa'el form of verbs is actually used to connote something other than just reflexive action. Sometimes Hitpa'el connotes action that two people or two beings take with one another.
Let me give you an example. Yaakov and Eisav in the womb; Vayitrotzetzu habanim bekirbah – “the two ran at each other.” Well, they were doing something mutual and that's the Hitpa'el form of Ratz – ‘to run.’ In Modern Hebrew, Lehitkatev means ‘to correspond,’ Lehitkasher ‘to call someone on the phone,’ two people calling each other.
It's not just that it happens to be that Hitpa'el can be used for reflexive action or Hitpa'el can also be used for mutual action; they might just be the same thing. When two people act together mutually, you know, one way of viewing it is that there's one person here and there's one person there and they happen to be doing something together. But the other way of looking at it is that when they do something together, there's a kind of unit that's formed between the two of them. So when you and I interact, the ‘we’ is acting on itself. If that's so, it would make perfect sense why Hitpa'el is used for both reflexive and mutual action. When you and I do something together, the ‘we’ is doing it reflexively to itself.
So now let's talk about the implications of this. What, now, does Vehit'halachti mean?
What Does It Mean to Walk with God?
It doesn't just mean that you'll be over there and I'm going to come and I'll walk in between you. It means that you and I are going to be walking together. God and the People of Israel are going to stroll together in the land.
And now let's go back to the garden, and we'll sense a hint of tragedy in the words. Because right before we hear about God being Mit'halech in the garden, something had gone wrong. The people had eaten from the forbidden fruit and they were hiding from God. How do we understand the Hitpa'el? It wasn't that God was taking Himself on a walk. It would seem to imply mutual action… but it wasn't mutual. When God was walking, Adam and Eve were hiding — and that's the tragedy. It's like a broken form of Hitpa'el here. It's like God was inviting them: Here I am, I'm ready to stroll with you, but where are you? You're not here. And now we understand the question ‘Ayeka’ – where are you, weren't we supposed to be walking now?
There are two Hebrew words for ‘where.’ The normal word for where is Eifo. Eifo is an ordinary kind of where, when I actually want to know where you are. But the other Hebrew word for where – Ayei – it doesn't mean that. If you look carefully at how Ayei is used in the Torah, it's never actually a request for location. It means what happened to you? How come you're not here?
In the Binding of Isaac they're going up the mountain, Isaac says, “I see the wood, I see the fire; Ayei haseh l'olah – where is the lamb for the offering?” Doesn't mean ‘where is the lamb,’ I want to know exactly where the lamb is, did we leave it by the woodshed? It wasn't Eifo, it was Ayei. I see the wood, I see the fire, there's no lamb – that question is: Am I the lamb? It's a whole different conversation now.
I'll give you another example. From the Book of Psalms” Ayei Elokeihem – why should people say about God, “where is your God?” Doesn't mean: what's the location of your God. It means: Why should people say about You, God, ‘How come You're not here?’ You're supposed to be involved with us and You're not here, where did You go?
How to Walk Closer with God
It's the same thing back in the garden with the original Ayei. God wasn't saying, Where are you, I can't figure out where you are. No, it was a poignant cry. We were supposed to go walking together. How come you're not here with Me? It is the original lament in the Torah.
How do you spell those words, Ayecha? Aleph, Yud, Chaf, Hei. You know what else those words spell? Those are the classic words for lament – Eicha. Those words later on become a Megillah. A Megillah devoted to lament. In English, its name is Lamentations.
The tragedy of sin in the garden is the tragedy of Ayei, where did you go? It's the tragedy of missing a joyful moment of togetherness with G-d, the chance to stroll with Him, a chance – G-d promises – that will be re-created in Israel, where one more time we will have that opportunity, if we can only muster the strength to avoid hiding and to seize the opportunity of companionship with the Divine being offered to us.