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You'll Never Walk Alone

05/30/2024 01:44:35 PM

May30

Rabbi Bryan Wexler

This week, I have one of my favorite songs stuck in my head: “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” written by Oscar Hammerstein II, and composed by Richard Rogers. Perhaps, I have been singing this song all week in excitement and anticipation for tonight’s big TBS Spring Event: Souly Jazz with Hadar (here is a beautiful rendition of the song by famous Jazz musician, Louis Armstrong).  And perhaps I have been singing it all week because walking is a central motif of this week’s Torah portion Behukotai.  In fact, in the first 10 verses of the parashah, the verb to walk, la’lekhet, occurs three times.  The parashah begins with the words:  V’im Behukotai teileikhu, and then it continues: “if you walk in God’s laws than many blessings will follow,” (26:3) and will ultimately culminate in “God walking in your midst” (v’heethalakhti b’tokham—26:12) and causing you to walk upright.” (v’oleikh etkhem kom’miyut26:13). There are even more references to walking elsewhere in the parashah, so we have to ask: What is with all of this walking? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to use a different verb? If you keep My laws? Or observe, or hold tight? 

Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz a well-known Israeli intellectual who passed away in the mid-90’s, was fascinated with the use of the word “walk” rather than “hold firm” or “stand.”  He explained that to be Jewish is neither a static nor a passive endeavor, but rather an ongoing process. Despite living nearly 200 years earlier it seems that the Chassidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev actually seems to build on Professor Leibowitz’s idea.  He says that the first verse of the parashah (v’im behukotai teileikhu) actually conveys the essence of Judaism.  He explains this by offering an alternative punctuation, Im behukotai, if you live by my commandments, if you choose to live rightly, teileikhu, then you will walk, you will move forward. And walking forward, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak says, is the entire purpose of religious life. From madreiga to madreiga, from one level and way of living to another. Judaism is our mechanism for moving forward in our walk through life.

Judaism with all of its rituals and commandments, and practices, invites on a daily walk- a walk, not a run; a walk to move forward in our growth as human beings. To become broader and deeper people – to become more thoughtful, more compassionate. More subtle. More loving. V’im behukotai teileikhu is an invitation to continue on the journey, with God, with one another, and with ourselves.
As we approach Shavuot, the character of Ruth serves as a wonderful model. Ruth declares to her distraught mother-in-law Naomi: “ki el asher tilkhi eileikh—wherever you go, I will go.”  May she inspire each of us to say: “eileikh—I will go.” V’im behukotai teileikhu; it’s time to go. “Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you'll never walk alone.” May God bless you on your journey.

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784