The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Iyar 18, 5768 / May 22, 2008

"If you walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments"
(Leviticus 26:3)

As the book of Vayikra (Leviticus) draws to a close, G-d exhorts His children to remain steadfast in their adherence to His word. At least that would appear to be the case concerning the latter clause, "keep My commandments." But what is intended by the imperative, "walk in My statutes?" "My commandments" clearly refers to the 613 commandments enumerated by Torah. Then what are the "statutes," and why are we directed to "walk" in their way?

In truth this is not the first time that we have come across this curious phraseology. In Exodus 15:26 we read the following: "and He said: 'If you will diligently hearken to the voice of HaShem your G-d, and will do that which is right in His eyes, and will listen to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon you, which I have put upon the Egyptians; for I am HaShem that heals you.'" These words, spoken to the Israelites in Marah, preceded two other nation-forming events: the advent of the manna which fell from heaven to sustain and nourish the people, and the bitter war fought against the arch enemy Amalek.

Leviticus 26:3 is the opening verse of this Shabbat's Torah reading of Bechukotai, ("in My statutes"). Two other historic dates also fall out on this week's Hebrew calendar: The 15th of the month of Iyar, (Tuesday, May 20th), happens to have been the day that the manna began to fall, and this, of course was immediately followed by the vicious attack by Amalek. Can these "coincidences" somehow shed light on our question: What is the nature of G-d's statutes, and what is intended by "walking" according to these statutes?

Our sages point to the statute of the red heifer as being exemplary of what most defines the nature of G-d's statutes: that is, the inexplicable quality of a statute. We ultimately are unable to comprehend on a rational, logical level the meaning of G-d's chukim - statutes. For this very reason they become a test of our faith in Him. G-d's other commandments are more amenable to comprehension and explanation, (at least on a certain level), and it is human nature to be more comfortable with what we can grasp intellectually. But to be steadfast in the performance of G-d's chukim is a true test of faith.

We can no more comprehend the fundamental principles of the red heifer than we can grasp the real reason beyond the scientific formulas of G-d's other chukim, such as gravity, and the speed of light, or the breadth of the universe. But by learning to live by our faith in His statutes, to walk in their ways, we can become part of His creative force and receive the bounty of his benevolence.

In the description of the manna which we read in Exodus 16 we see how our faith in G-d's incomprehensible goodness and love for us can provide us with the physical sustenance and spiritual nourishment that we need. Likewise, in the incident of Amalek we learn that when we allow our doubt to cloud our faith, pain and suffering are sure to follow.

This is the same equation being laid out before us in the concluding chapters of Vayikra: "If you walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them; then I will give your rains in their season, and the land shall yield her produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit." (Leviticus 26:3-4)

And later: "But if you will not hearken unto Me, and will not do all these commandments; and if you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhor My statutes, so that you will not do all My commandments, but break My covenant; I also will do this unto you: I will appoint terror over you, even consumption and fever, that shall make the eyes to fail, and the soul to languish; and you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. And I will set My face against you... " (Leviticus 26:14-17)

By "walking in G-d's chukim (statutes)" - we live!

Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK to hear Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the Torah reading of Bechukotai, what it means to walk in G-d's statutes, the heartening message of Pesach Sheni - the second Passover, and the Lag B'Omer celebration.

Click to hear:

Part 1
Part 2