Sermon Notes 04/05/13 - Behar-Bechukotay 5773
If you walk in My statutes, observe My commandments and perform them. (VaYikra 26:3)
This verse, which opens the second of today’s parashiot, is subject to
much discussion in the classic sources.
A key difficulty is the unexpected use of הליכה – walking – to describe
adherence to statutes, divine laws for which no reason is known. Rabbi S.R. Hirsch (commentary ad. loc)
explains that הלך means to ‘move towards a goal’.
Spiritual life involves constantly moving towards spiritual ambitions,
relentlessly striving to attain communion with the divine, exemplified by the
This interpretation is supported by a beautiful midrash:
If you walk in My statutes… As the verse writes: I considered my way, but I returned my feet to Your testimonies. (Tehillim 119:59) King David said, ‘every day, I decided that I would walk to a particular place or home, but my feet brought me to the Shuls or Yeshivot’. As the verse says: but I returned my feet to your testimonies. (VaYikra Rabbah 35:1)
This reading identifies a phenomenon we might term our ‘autopilot’ – the
direction in which we are led when we aren’t thinking by habit and subliminal interests. I recall a long-retired senior colleague who
mentioned that his car ‘went to Bushey on its own’ – that is, wherever he
started driving, he ending up steering towards the Jewish cemetery in Bushey
(outskirts of London), somewhere, sadly, he had frequented throughout his
King David records that despite his plans, he always found himself
automatically led towards houses of prayer and Torah study. As such, the midrash has reinterpreted the
phrase ‘if you walk in My statutes’ as an exploration of our subconscious
desires. Have we sufficiently internalised
our spiritual mission that we follow it without concentrating, even when we’re
focusing on something else?
This passage is always read soon before Shavuot (see TB Megillah 31b
and Yad, Tefillah U’Nesiat Kapayim 13:2).
The obvious rationale for this is that it contains the rebukes that are
the consequences of disobeying the laws given at Sinai. But perhaps there is another reason – prior
to renewing our connection to the revelation and its laws, we are encouraged to
consider where our true loyalties lie, those best characterised by where our ‘autopilot’