David Lerner

Walk This Way- Parashah B’hukkotai 5784

Photo credit: Rabbi David Lerner

So, I took last week off to move my mom from New York to a senior living facility near my sister in Philadelphia. We have several Emunah members there, including Barbara Wissoker and the Weyls.

And so, in addition to trying my best to set my mom up as best as I could in her new place, I took her for a number of walks.

We walked from her building to the main building; at least, we tried to.

Photo Credit: Rabbi David Lerner

It’s kind of a confusing complex and there is construction, so…

The best walk was on Shabbat afternoon when I took my mom on a “shortcut,” which turned out to be a half-mile detour uphill – but at least her walker has a seat when she needed a break.

* * *

We know from science that walking is healing. Each time I was recovering from surgery, my doctors told me to walk as much as possible to heal faster. 

And if you know me, I went a bit overboard and walked from the Brigham all the way to Children’s and pretty much to every hospital I could reach while staying indoors pushing my IV pole. (In case you don’t know…)

* * *

Walking is also pretty central in our tradition. Perhaps the rabbis knew something about science.

At a funeral, we walk with the met, with the deceased to the graveside and after the shivah, the seven days of mourning, we lift the mourners up by walking them around the block. 

Photo Credit: Temple Emunah

There is also a wedding procession where we dance the partners to the huppah, to the wedding canopy, where they continue to walk by circling each other seven times.

* * *

Walking is also highlighted in our Torah. 

Our earliest spiritual ancestor, Abraham, is told to lekh-lekha, to walk from his birthplace to K’na’an – to Canaan, the land of Israel. 

And the Israelites become a people walking through the parted waters of the Sea of Reeds after they leave Egypt. 

* * *

Our Torah reading, Parashat B’hukkotai, contains the complicated topic of reward and punishment, which Matan discussed thoughtfully in his d’var Torah.

The opening verses state: 

“If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit.” (Lev.26:3-4)

The Hebrew here is interesting: אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ – literally, if you walk in my hukim, my laws. 

Why “walk?” 

The second half of the verse seems more straightforward. If you observe my commandments. וְאֶת־מִצְוֺתַ֣י תִּשְׁמְר֔וּ

So, we have “observing,” and we have “walking.” They are synonyms in their overall meaning in this context, but there are some subtle differences.

If we look at the verse even more closely, we see it alludes to two different kinds of traditions we are to keep – one, the mitzvot, the commandments, and the other, hukim – a hok or hukkah could be translated as a rule.

The tradition explains that you can find an explanation for a commandment like don’t murder (it’s kind of obvious) or don’t lie about business records about hush money payments. 

Photo credit: Flickr (

But a hok, for a rule, the reasoning can be elusive. The rabbis teach that the classic hok is the law of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer, whose ashes were sprinkled upon those who are impure to purify them, and then the pure persons who performed this ritual became impure.

There’s no intrinsic logic; that’s a hok.

So we learn we should walk with a hok – in essence, we should follow what’s hard to understand and simply observe what is more easily understood. 

* * *

Now, I am not a big believer in doing things that may not make sense; I prefer to ask why and to try to find a reason. But here, we are being told to walk in God’s mysterious ways.

To me, this is about trust. 

We walk with people we trust. 

We don’t always know everything about something.

When I bring my car into the shop, and I am told that the brakes are shot, I have no idea if that is true. But I trust my mechanic and follow his advice. 

In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I gave him a thousand dollars for this repair and could not see, hear, or feel any difference, but I trusted him.

Similarly, we walk with people in our lives whom we trust. 

And I think that is what the Torah is teaching us.

You walk with your friends – even when you are not sure where they are taking you.

Similarly, in a marriage or with a good friend, you trust them – even though you don’t know exactly where they are taking you, and sometimes they might not be sure either. But you make a commitment to them, to walk together.

It’s not something that happens in one second, it builds over time.

* * *

Rashi comments on this verse about walking in God’s rules by explaining that there is an intensity to this kind of observance. Walking means that we should labor to really try to feel these rules, making them a deep part of our lives.

Now, in Hebrew, the word lekh – walk becomes the noun for Jewish law: halakhah. Jewish law and its traditions and values become the path we are to walk throughout our lives.

My colleague, Rabbi Danny Nevins, elucidates the rabbinic phrase “the daled amot of halakhah – the four cubits of Jewish law, in which we are supposed to inhabit. He claims that this distance is equivalent to about six to eight feet. “It is just right [space] for two people to walk side by side, engaged in an animated conversation as they [traverse] the countryside.”

Photo Credit: Rabbi Danny Nevins (

A beautiful image.

Perhaps this is what the Torah wants us to think about – walks can help us get close to others or to the Divine.

In Genesis, we find:

וַיִּתְהַלֵּ֥ךְ חֲנ֖וֹךְ אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֑ים וְאֵינֶ֕נּוּ כִּֽי־לָקַ֥ח אֹת֖וֹ אֱלֹהִֽים׃ 

Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, for God took him. (Gen.5:24)

This is a statement of his moral character but also of his closeness with God’s presence.

Much later, we find Micah, a prophet who lived not far from Jerusalem in the 8th century before the Common Era, asking: what is the good way to live your life? What does God want from you?

Micah answers: 

כִּ֣י אִם־עֲשׂ֤וֹת מִשְׁפָּט֙ וְאַ֣הֲבַת חֶ֔סֶד וְהַצְנֵ֥עַ לֶ֖כֶת עִם־אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ

“Only to do justice

And to love goodness,

And to walk modestly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

This is such a powerful way to live; it’s not just justice and morality but also how you walk.

How we walk is also critical. 

We try not to take up too much space, walking with a sense of humility, realizing that each of us makes mistakes—a fundamental lack of arrogance which is sorely lacking in many leaders today.

* * *

As I walked last Shabbat in Philadelphia, I look forward to another Shabbat walk this afternoon – hopefully with my whole family.

And I leave you with this teaching: As we walk through life, our week, our day, even in these challenging times, remember that we never walk alone. 

Trustworthy people are holding our hands and walking with us.

And God is always walking with us, helping us live lives of purpose, meaning, and righteousness.

May we all walk in God’s ways.

About the Author
For the past seventeen years, David Lerner has served as the spiritual leader of Temple Emunah in historic Lexington, MA, where he is now the senior rabbi. He has served as the president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis and the Lexington Interfaith Clergy Association. He is one of the founders of Community Hevra Kadisha of Greater Boston, and Emunat HaLev: The Meditation and Mindfulness Institute of Temple Emunah. A graduate of Columbia College and ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary where he was a Wexner Graduate Fellow, Rabbi Lerner brings to his community a unique blend of warmth, outreach, energetic teaching, intellectual rigor and caring for all ages.