Parshat Chukat: Living God’s commandments

We have said frequently that the Torah defines our Jewish identity, which is about who we Jews are and what we do, and these also determine our relationship with the Creator. This relationship is shaped by our connection with Him, which depends on His commandments, decrees and statutes delineated in the Torah.

We have indicated that in Hebrew the semantic root of the term “commandment” means connection, and this connection is determined by His rules, not ours. We have to understand and assimilate the ways, means and attributes with which God relates to His creation, us included, according to what the Torah instructs us.

These are the foundation for us to comprehend His commandments, despite our limitations to know Him, because He does not have definition. This is why our sages teach us that we only can know Him through His ways and attributes, and yet we will never get to know Him at all.

We must insist that our Jewish identity is the sum of all the 613 commandments in the Torah, because they not only define who we are but our connection with the Creator. The underlying essence of this connection is love as our common bond with Him. God’s love is present in His (thirteen) attributes as the Torah tells us (Exodus 34:6-7).

As we mentioned in our book “God’s Love” the repeated attribute of the Creator for His creation is compassion as the material manifestation of His love. These attributes indicate our bond with Him and to approach and perform His commandments, because these are the only ways to assimilate His love as also our essence and identity.

The psalmist reminds us about this.

“The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness. The Lord is good to all, He has compassion on all He has created.” (Psalms 145:8-9)

Therefore, God’s love is our reference in all levels of consciousness. This is how we must approach life and what we are and do.

Recently we commented on the priestly blessings recorded in the Torah and, in the context of our relationship with God, we have to understand them not only as something we receive from Him but as a commandment to fulfill as part of our connection with Him.

He blesses us and protects us as long as we also bless with His love whatever we do. In this action we are indeed protected because love is our protection.

He shines His countenance (His love) on us as long as we also shine (manifest) love with our deeds. Thus His grace is in us when we act with love. He elevates His countenance (love) on us and puts peace on us, as long as we let love elevate our consciousness. In this process peace is unto us and those we approach with loving kindness.

In other words, God’s blessings are not for us to enjoy as a gift that makes us feel fulfilled and satisfied at a personal level. His blessings indeed have a purpose, which is for us to manifest them in what we are and do. This is the way His commandments work in our relationship with Him. As long as we perform them, we are connected to Him and this is a practical and concrete process.

We can’t afford the luxury of living in ego’s illusion that we are blessed by God because we deserve His blessings. We ask for them in order to manifest them in all dimensions of life, including our relationship with others and our surroundings. Being blessed is not a personal o selfish endowment. It implies the same meaning of “to whom a lot is given, a lot is expected”.

One of the major differences between Judaism and other beliefs is that we Jews are entitled to manifest God’s will out in the material world, and not in our self. God’s commandments are not directed to benefit us individually but collectively. Our personal redemption must be part of the collective redemption.

In Shelach we recall the episode of the spies as the personal neglecting approach to God’s will, meaning that they rather stayed under the protecting and nurturing divine cloud in the desert than going out and conquer the Canaanite nations in order to settle in the Promised Land.

In our current times, we understand this as going out in the material world and conquer the negative aspects of our consciousness that don’t allow us to settle in love’s ways and attributes.

The psalmist helps us understand this.

“All the paths of the Lord are loving kindness and truth for those who keep His covenant and [His] commandments.” (Ibid. 25:10)

This teaches us that His commandments indeed are the loving kindness and truth inherent to His love, and the ways He loves us. In this sense we must assimilate love as our protection.

“May your loving kindness and truth protect me constantly.” (40:12)

“The Torah of the Lord is perfect, it restores the soul; the testimony of the Lord is faithful, making wise the simple. The commandments of the Lord are righteous, they are joyful for the heart. The commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes.” (19:8-9)

In love’s ways and attributes all is righteous, joyful and enlightening.

In our daily prayers we bless God and thank Him for His commandments.

“(…) for with the light of Your countenance [in His love], Lord our God, You gave us the Torah of life and loving kindness, goodness, righteousness, blessing and compassion, life and peace.”

These are the attributes of the commandments He gave us as part of the identity He wants us to have as His chosen ones. Such attributes are the decrees, the statutes and testimonies that define our connection with Him because they are also His attributes and our common bond with Him.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Kochav Yaakov.
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