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Home » Acharei Mot

Acharei Mot: Walk The Walk

Submitted by on April 18, 2010 – 4:28 amNo Comment | 2,426 views

On The Beach

I had a conversation fourteen years ago with a fellow that has since become one of my closest friends. This was the first time we met and he wanted to test my tolerance, as it were, by mentioning that rather than attend a formal synagogue service on Yom Kippur he prefers to sit on the beach and meditate. Unaware that my tolerance was being tested I mumbled some kind of response, the particulars of which I have long since forgotten. Whatever I said must have passed the test because this young man soon became a regular attendee at our Shull.

Driving along one bright recent morning, contemplating the complex and highly ritualistic service that the Torah mandated in the Temple on Yom Kippur, that conversation came back to me. I wondered why, indeed, it would not have been enough to meditate on the beach. Rather than instruct the high priest to don linen garments and offer incense in the Holy of Holies G-d could have ordained that we immerse ourselves in the beauty of nature and commune with our creator.

Absentmindedly I turned on the radio and the voice of another friend, journalist and radio commentator Mr. Jim Chapman, wafted from the speakers. As is his custom, Mr. Chapman had worked himself into a lather about some issue or other at City Hall, when he reiterated what has by now become his radio mantra. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I say again, don’t listen to what the politicians say, watch what they do because that is what reveals their true political philosophy.”

Aha, I thought, now I understand. G-d could have requested that we engage in meditation and conversation about His endless goodness and exquisite beauty.walk the walk innerstream He might have instructed that we surround ourselves by the beauty of His nature and contemplate the awesomeness of His creation. But He wanted more. He wanted it to mean so much to us that it would be reflected in our deeds; in the way we live. He didn’t want us to merely talk the talk. He wanted us to walk the walk. Talk is cheap, thoughts come as freely as they go; it is what we do that showcases our true philosophy.

Just Words

Words are easy to come by; one can preach a great sermon and then simply walk away. If words mislead the listener then thoughts mislead the thinker. We can engage in lasting and powerful meditation and then wake up from our trance and walk away. Meditation and awe do not necessarily impact change in our lives. For change to be lasting, for spiritual awareness to become real, it must be reflected in deed. We have to walk the walk. When we change the way we behave; when we actually do something for G-d that we would never do for ourselves, then we know how real G-d is to us.

If I would rather eat pasta, but choose rice instead because the store was out of kosher pasta, I know G-d is real in my life. If I would rather finish my job before deadline, but stop because the time for prayer is at hand, I know how real G-d is in my life; so real that I would rather pay the penalty for missing the deadline than miss my daily prayer to G-d. If I would much rather eat, but fast because it is Yom Kippur, I know G-d is real in my life. Showing in concrete terms that G-d is more important to me than my own needs reveals my true philosophy.

If on the other hand I meditate, study, reflect and teach about G-d to the point that I truly feel Him in my heart, if I observe His miracles and know that He is in my life and then accept an invitation to wind surf on Shabbat, then I have demonstrated how little G-d means to me. I can think about Him, I can learn about Him and I can talk about Him, but when it comes down to a choice between what I need and what He instructs, I put my needs first. As Mr. Chapman says, it is only what we do, that reveals our true philosophy.

You Can Do Without

This story occurred in a country where shechitah (ritual slaughter) is forbidden by State Law. A delegation of leading members of the Jewish community appeared before a commission reviewing the food safety laws and appealed to permit ritual slaughter. The committee broke for lunch and invited the Jewish delegation to dine with them. The Jews, who were not particularly observant, accepted the invitation and enjoyed a succulent, albeit non kosher, meat dish.In other words they talked the talk, but they failed to walk the walk.

When the commission reconvened they declared that the arguments to permit shechitah were theoretically sound, but the behavior of the delegation demonstrated how unimportant shechitah is to the Jewish community. The commission decided to let the prohibition stand.

Paying lip service to a religion does not a devotee make; we can all agree on that. The same truism applies to paying mind and heart service. The service of the heart is without base if it is divorced from every day deeds. (1) We can preach about the importance of a proper diet, we can even passionately believe it, but if we don’t live it we will not benefit from it and will certainly fail to inspire others as demonstrated in the following parable.

A mother and her five year old son made a two day journey to visit a spiritual mentor at his mountaintop retreat. She begged him to tell her child to stop eating salt, but the mentor suggested that she return in two weeks time. The mother obliged and went home. Two weeks later she remade the arduous journey and once again presented her son to the sage. The sage bent down and quietly admonished the child to reduce his salt intake. Dismayed at having made the journey twice, the mother wanted to know why the sage could not have admonished her son the first time. The first time, replied the grizzled man, I was eating salt myself. The mentor wanted to walk the walk.

His Will

For the sake of intellectual honesty we must explore one more point.

Till now we have been speculating on the reasons G-d wanted Judaism to be so heavily ritualized and practice based. The truth is that we will never truly know G-d’s thinking. “My thoughts are not your thoughts,” said Isaiah (55:8). Far be it from us to presume to understand the depth of Divine thought. In our essay we have merely recognized certain truths about the human condition, but we don’t presume to know the full impact of G-d’s reasoning.

Though we cannot know His reasons we can know His instructions. We might not understand the why, but He has certainly communicated the what. Other than the Torah, there is no other document in existence that outlines G-d’s will. Some might say, so what? Make it up. Some might in fact devise entirely new ways of serving G-d such as meditating on the beach instead of praying at Shull on Yom Kippur, but the question we all need to face is, are we serving G-d in the way He asked to be served?

Suppose I ask my son to mow the lawn and rather than actually mow he meditates on it. He sits down in the middle of the lawn and imagines the lawnmower making neat lines in the freshly cut grass. He imagines the grass blades flying through the sun and the aroma of spring in the yard. When he comes in to the house can he honestly tell me that he did what I had asked? Further, the next time he asks me for money would he want me to actually give him money or would he be content if I just sat down and imagined giving him money?

When it comes right down to it we must ask ourselves, why is our relationship with G-d any different?

Footnotes

  1. This is not to dismiss the importance of meditation
    and heart based service. The Torah enjoins us to serve G-d with all our
    heart. Engaging the heart is crucial because ritual devoid of passion is
    ultimately devoid of personal attachment. This essay does not dismiss
    the importance of heart based commitment. It merely makes the point that
    one may not stop at meditation and passion; one must carry it forth
    into action. A humorous anecdote reinforces this point. A young lady
    once asked an elderly woman if she lights Shabbat candles. The woman
    replied, I light Shabbat candles in my heart. Lady, replied the
    youngster, I hope you don’t get heartburn. While this answer is somewhat
    brash it makes the point succinctly.