Parshat Ki-Tavo: Walking in God’s ways

Walking in God’s ways

Rabbanit Ravit Kalech is a Fifth Year Fellow in the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL)

In the sequence of blessings in our parsha, Moshe says the following to the People:

“The Lord will establish thee for a holy people unto Himself, as He has sworn unto thee; if thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, and walk in His ways.”  (Devarim 28:9)

The Hebrew word “ki” denotes a condition: If you shall keep His commandments and walk in His ways, then He will establish you as a holy nation unto Him as He had promised.  

Is walking in God’s ways not the same as observing the commandments?  If it is one and the same, then why does Moshe have to add those last words?

This particular commandment, as phrased by Moshe, is mentioned numerous times in the Book of Devarim:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul.” (Devarim 10:12)

“For if you shall diligently keep all this commandment which I command you, to do it, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave unto Him.” (Ibid. 11:22)

“After the Lord your God shall you walk, and Him shall you fear, and His commandments shall you keep, and unto His voice shall you hearken, and Him shall you serve, and unto Him shall you cleave.” (Ibid. 13:5)

In the Book of Shmuel, on the other hand, reference is made to walking in the ways of a person.  This is what the verses say of the sons of Eli (Shmuel I 8:3-5):

“And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted justice.  Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Shmuel unto Ramah.  And they said unto him: ‘Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways; now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”

As can be seen, the sons’ behavior was nothing like their father’s.  It follows then that “walking in the ways of” means following somebody’s deeds, or engaging in similar behavior.  

What, then, is the way of God?  And what does it mean to walk in God’s ways?

After the Sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe Rabeinu begs of God,

“Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found grace in Thy sight, show me now Thy ways, that I may know Thee, to the end that I may find grace in Thy sight; and consider that this nation is Thy people.” (Shemot 33:13). 

Following this, we find The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.

Midrash Sifre, on the words “to walk in all His ways”, says, “These are the ways of God.  As is written (Shemot 34) – ‘The Lord, the Lord, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth. 

Keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin’. 

And as is also written (Yoel 3:5) –

‘whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.’ 

How is it possible for a human being to call on the name of the Lord?!  This is to say that just as the Lord is called merciful and gracious, you, too, should be merciful and gracious and do unconditional kindness unto all people. 

Just as the Lord is called righteous – as is written (Tehillim 145)

‘The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and pious in all His works’ – you, too, must act righteously.  Just as the Lord is called pious – as is written (ibid.) ‘…pious in all His ways’ – you, too, must act in piety” (Sifre on Ekev, clause 49).

The answer of the Sifre to the question posed above is that one who follows the Thirteen Attributes of God is considered as one who walks in His ways.  Seemingly, this has nothing to do with observing the mitzvot, but refers to things that go beyond: “… do unconditional kindness unto all people”, “…you, too, must act in piety.”

A similar notion can be found in the tractate of Sotah (14:1):

“Rabi Chama son of Rabi Chanina said: What does the verse ‘After the Lord your God shall you walk’?  Is it possible for a man to walk in the footsteps of the Shechina?   Are we not told that the Lord our God is a consuming fire? But the meaning here is that we must emulate God and adopt His attributes.  Just as God clothes the naked – as is written ‘And God the Lord made for Adam and Eve garments of skins and clothed them’ – you, too, should clothe them.  Just as God visits the sick – as is written ‘And God appeared to him in Elonei Mamre’ – you, too, should visit the sick.  Just as God comforts the bereaved – as is written ‘And it came to pass after the death of Avraham, that God blessed Yitzhak his son’ – you, too, should comfort the bereaved.  Just as God buries the dead – as is written ‘And He buried him in the valley’ – you, too, should bury the dead.”

Evidently, one can understand from the above that following in God’s ways or adopting His attributes is a general directive telling us to be compassionate and kind. 

However, Sefer HaChinuch on our portion, counts the instruction to walk in God’s ways as one of the Positive Commandments (Mitzvah no. 611).  He writes as follows:

“We are commanded to perform all of our actions in a benevolent and upright manner, to the best of our ability, and direct all of our deeds and affairs with others towards the path of kindness and compassion, for the Torah has taught us that this is the way of God, and such is His desire of all His creations, so that they merit His goodness, for He is a kind and benevolent God.  Of this it is said ‘And you shall walk in His ways’ (Devarim 28:9), and this commandment is repeated again – ‘To walk in all his ways’ (Devarim 10:12 and ibid. 11:22).”

We find the same in the Rambam’s count of the mitzvot: “To walk in God’s ways and liken ourselves to Him” (Positive Mitzvah no. 8), as well as in Sefer Mitzvot Gadol which lists this commandment as Positive Mitzvah no. 7.  

We can learn from the above that walking in the ways of God is a standalone mitzvat aseh (positive commandment) which demands of each of us to treat our fellow human being with kindness and compassion.  

Another perspective of this mitzvah is expounded upon by Rabbi Shmuel Eidels (the Maharsha) in his commentary Chidushei Agadot on the tractate of Yevamot: 

“Rabi Chanina said – Torah scholars add peace to the world, as is written: ‘And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children.'” (Yevamot 122:2)

The Maharsha on the above: “… the wife, too, can be relied on to provide attestation and say: ‘My husband is dead’ or ‘My yabam (the brother of a deceased childless husband) is dead’.  And [the words in the verse] lema’an achai (‘for the sake of my brothers’) denote that it is incumbent on her to say ‘my husband is dead’ so that she may marry her brother-in-law. 

Likewise, she may attest to the death of her of brother-in-law so that she may be free to marry anyone else.  It is for this reason that the verse [in Tehillim] uses the word adabra (‘I shall speak’) in the singular form – to teach us that even the testimony of one individual is valid for the sake of peace – i.e., that the woman will not become an agunah. 

The verse ends with

“The Lord will give strength unto His people” (Tehillim 29:11)

to teach us that the above in no way annuls the words of the Torah; rather, God has given strength unto His people, in the sense that He has given Torah scholars the authority to rule with lenience, and in so doing ‘… the Lord will bless His people with peace’ (ibid.).  And as is also written – ‘…and all her [the Torah] paths are peace’ (Mishlei 3:17). 

And peace cannot prevail if a woman is left an agunah.  Similarly, when the Torah says ‘Yisa Hashem panav eleicha‘ (‘God will raise His countenance upon thee’), it refers to the same notion of annulling Torah words for the sake of peace – ‘veyasem lecha shalom.'”

In other words, God gave Torah scholars the power to take the necessary measures in order to prevent a woman from becoming an agunah, to name but one example, as mentioned above – “peace cannot prevail if a woman is left an agunah.”

I think the above is in keeping with the mitzvah of walking in God’s ways.  One such way or attribute is peace.  

It would only be appropriate to end with the beautiful words of Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch:

“All these blessings will come upon you if you faithfully observe the mitzvot of Hashem.  However, you must strive to fulfill the callings of mankind and the People of Israel by faithfully following the paths paved out by Him alone.  Then, and only then, will God establish you unto him as a People, a nation that will advocate God’s ways among all humankind; a holy nation that belongs unto Him; a People far removed from all that is evil and lowly; a People that exemplify all that is good and ethical and admirable.” (Rabbi Hirsch on Ki-Tavo 28:9-10).  

In these very days, when we approach the end of the month of Elul and the New Year, I bless us all that we succeed in walking in God’s ways, acting with compassion, mercy and peace toward all others.  Let us pray that God will act in kind with us, and grant us life, peace and all things good.  

Shabbat Shalom!

 

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