Walk, Keep, Do

If you walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them[1]torah

There are three verbs in this verse: walk, keep, and do. What do they indicate?

  • Rashi says they represent the study and performance of the commandments.
  • Sforno says they represent the scrupulous observance of the commands from the motivation of love
  • Ibn Ezra says the verbs indicate, learning, teaching, and performing.

Walk – Yalak (To go on, to go forward)
Keep – Shamar (To keep, observe, preserve, to watch, or look narrowly)
Do – Asah (To do, accomplish, perform)

In light of these definitions, it appears Ibn Ezra is our winner.

There are two subjects in the verse. What do they mean?

  • My statutes – chukotai
  • My commandments – mitzvotai

Generally speaking, the mitzvot, the commandments in Torah are placed into two categories:

  • mishpatim[2]: Mishpatim are logical commands such as the directive to give charity or the restriction against theft. Mishpatim, generally, are rational and easily explained commands. Arguably, societies worldwide would have instituted them on their own even if G‑d had not commanded them.
  • Chukim[3]: The chukkim are those mitzvot, such as the dietary laws or the laws of family purity, which we accept as divine decrees, despite their incomprehensibility (supra-rationality) and — in the most extreme of chukkim — their seeming irrationality.
  • Eidot[4]: A third category exists, and these are the commands that commemorate or represent something. This includes, eating matzah on Pesach (in fact, the whole Passover seder), wrapping tefillin, or celebrating Sukkot. These are rational activities, but they are not commands we would have devised as a society without some sort of catalytic event to springboard it into a command. A modern example of this would be fireworks on the celebration of US Independence Day each year.

With these definitions in mind, the first verse can be paraphrased to say:

If you go on and live in My supra-rational commands you don’t fully understand, and preserve or watch over the understanding of My commands that are the most easily understood, and dutifully accomplish them all

What then? If we do this… what? Verses four through 13 details promises of prosperity and happiness. We will receive rain, the ground will be productive, we will live securely without worry of hostile invasion, wild beasts will not threaten our lands, we will be successful in battle, Hashem will shine His smile upon us and our land, our many children will be born healthy, Hashem will dwell among us in the Mishkan.

However, another If-Then logic statement can be found in verse 14. This one is not so good. It’s the beginning of the first of two tochachot[5] in Torah.

The two main tochachot given to Israel in the Torah are located in Parshah Bechukotai[6] and Parshah Ki Tavo[7]. The first is the shorter of the two and ends with hope: Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am Hashem their God[8].

Bechukotai’s rebuke contains 49 curses while Ki Tavo has twice as many, that being 98; additionally, the second does not provide the reader a sense of reprieve or closure. Our sages concluded the rebuke in Leviticus foretells the destruction of the First Beit haMikdash and the subsequent Babylonian exile, while the rebuke in Deuteronomy foretells the destruction of the Second Temple and the seemingly endless Roman galut[9]. According to b.Megillah 31b, Ezra set up the Torah-reading cycle to allow us to read the curses in Leviticus just before Shavuot and he scheduled the curses in Deuteronomy to be read just before Rosh Hashanah.

There is another way to look at the curses. Sefer Vayikra, or the book of Leviticus occurs while we’re at Mt. Sinai. Therefore, it occurs sometime between the cheit haEgel[10] and when we broke camp and departed Sinai in marshaled array[11]. From Sinai, we were supposed to conquer the land, take Jerusalem, and set up the Temple in the place where G-d’s name is to dwell. Therefore, the tochachah in Leviticus was our warning prior to our (failed) entry into the Land. This makes perfect sense when we see the second admonition shows up in Deuteronomy 28… again, prior to our entry into the land.

Unfortunately we fell prey to both tochachot… and thankfully there are only two.

  • R’Yochanan b.Torta[12] said: Why was Shiloh destroyed? Because of two [evil] things that prevailed there, immorality and contemptuous treatment of sanctified objects[13].
  • Why was the first Sanctuary destroyed? Because of three [evil] things that prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed[14].
  • Why was the second Sanctuary destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, [observance of] precepts, and the practice of charity? Because hatred without cause prevailed here. This teaches that groundless hatred is considered as of even gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together[15].

The first temple was destroyed because of avodah zarah, and the first set of tochachot, as mentioned by our rabbis, was laid upon us. We came back after our exile and the temple was rebuilt. About 1,976 years ago, the second temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred.

We see a perfect example of the destruction wrought on us because of baseless hatred:

  • In Bavel, Haman had the perfect position. He had authority and position. He was a trusted advisor to the King and everyone bowed to him when he approached. Everyone except one man. Since Mordechai would not bow before him, Haman spent the rest of his life seeking to destroy the one subject who didn’t treat him with the honor that really only belonged to the king. Haman, knowing the Jews were going to be slaughtered in a matter of months should have laughed and dismissed him. Haman allowed his hatred to control his thinking and he began making mistakes. He created a scheme to destroy Mordechai and it backfired because Esther was wiser, and she went before the King and sought her case and the case of her people. She did not lower her argument to base emotive responses like hatred, fear, and loshon hara[16]. Haman’s hatred eventually caused his neck to be stretched on the gallows.
    Haman should have been happy with the position he had instead of dwelling on the one man who didn’t give him honor. The analogy of one bird in the hand is better than two in the bush fits well with Haman; he tried to capture the two in the bush and ended up with none[17].
  • Likewise, King Saul had it made. He was King and his son, Jonathan, was being groomed to follow in his footsteps as Israel’s second king – and he would have been a good king. However, Saul felt threatened by David and this led to multiple attempts at murder. He allowed his jealousy and hatred to destroy his life. His legacy as a dynasty of kings, and this uprooted his family. He should have chosen to be obedient to Hashem’s word through the words of His prophet or at the very least, made teshuvah.
  • Sanballat saw the return on the Jews to their land as a threat to his governorship, and five times, he tried to start a battle with the Jews and in one case in particular, he tried to trap Nehemiah in the temple but the plot was thwarted. Because of his obstinance, his descendants[18] were escorted off Jewish land and exiled to Samaria[19].
  • The 12,000 pairs of students of R’Akiva did not treat each other with any care[20]. They were apparently so entrenched in their studies, they gave nary a thought for [or neglected] the needs of anyone else around them. It says they did not treat each other with respect. A Tanna taught: they perished between the time of Pesach and Shavuos [specifically, Lag b’Omer]. R’Hama b.Abba or it might be R’Hiyya b.Abin who said: All of them died a cruel death. What was it? R’Nahman replied: Croup. Therefore, the world remained desolate until R’Akiba came to our Masters in the South and taught the Torah to them. These were R’Meir, R’Judah, R’Jose, R’Simeon, and R’Eleazar b.Shammua; and it was they who revived the Torah at that time[21].

We all have been given the ability to walk, keep, and do the will of Hashem, and we all specialize in a different area of the commands. Since no two people are identical [not even twins], each one of us have talents and abilities that are unique and serve an equally unique purpose. Together as a community, we work to commit ourselves to keeping Hashem’s covenant; therefore, for us to be jealous of the uniqueness of another’s gifts is not only unproductive, it is silly. Those of whom we are jealous, they are equally incapable of fulfilling our purpose in the Kingdom, so should they likewise be jealous of us?

[1] Leviticus 26:3

[2] “laws” or “judgements”

[3] “decrees”

[4] “testimonials”

[5] The tochachot are rebukes, or the “this is how crappy your life will be if you treat the commands of your G-d with contempt.”

[6] Leviticus 26:14-46

[7] Deuteronomy 28:15-68

[8] Leviticus 26:44

[9] exile

[10] sin of the golden calf

[11] Numbers 10:11

[12] An interesting account of Torta is given in the Pesikta Rabbati 14:2: He said: If a cow that has no speech and no mind, recognized her Creator, should I, whom my Maker created in His image, not go and acknowledge Him. He became a Jew, studied, grew efficient in the Torah and they named him Yochanan b.Torta, or Yochanan the son of a cow.

[13] b.Yoma 9a-9b

[14] b.Yoma 9b

[15] b.Yoma 9b

[16] evil speech or gossip

[17] ref; Sefer Esther

[18] who married into the legitimate priesthood under Eliashib

[19] ref: Sefer Nechaniah

[20] Shulchan Aruch 493:1

[21] b.Yevamot 62b

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