At the beginning of Parashat No’ach we are told that No’ach walked with God (Gen. 6:9). Rashi and others point out that where No’ach walked with God, Abraham walked before Him (Gen. 24:40).
The sages compare these two early leaders to children who at first need to walk with their parents, holding the parents’ hands for security. Only later can they walk on their own in front of their parents because they know there may be obstacles in the road.
This week’s Torah reading introduces us to a third category of walking – walking after God. The verse says, “After the Lord your God shall you walk” (Deut. 13:5).
Walking in God’s footsteps, as it were, is surely impossible for a human being: He is so great and we are so small. Perhaps we are being told to recognise the traces of God in the world and to immerse our minds, hearts and souls in the thought of them, making them our inspiration and paradigm.
WHAT IS THE BLESSING?
The sidra opens with God promising us a blessing if we obey His commands.
Our first thought is that “blessing” means becoming rich, enjoying the pleasures of material prosperity, living a luxurious life surrounded by servants and banquets, possessing property, power and plenty.
That is one way of looking at it, and if that’s how your life pans out, good luck to you – please enjoy your money, mansions and possessions, and whilst enjoying them remember to think of others at all times and be generous to them in appreciation of what you yourself possess.
However, I suspect that is not what the verse really means at all. It thinks of visions and values, not chariots and cheques. The greatest blessing is not material at all. It is to have a dream to pursue, a vision to implement, values to work for, spiritual realms to inhabit, ideas to savour, ideals to cherish, aspirations to exhilarate and inspire you, a better world to create, a heaven to bring down to earth, an earth to bring up to heaven.
That’s the real blessing that the Almighty is offering His earthly creatures, and what makes it all the more valuable is when you harness it to bring blessing to others.
TO SEE & ENJOY
The name of the sidra, “Re’eh”, means “See!” (Deut. 11:26-28). In old-time English translations it is “Behold!” Today we would say, “Look!”
The same verb, resh-alef-heh, comes in a well-known verse (“na’ar hayiti”) that is one of a group of added verses at the end of the Grace After Meals. Taken from Psalm 37:25, it says, “I was young and now I am old, and I have never seen (‘lo ra’iti’) a righteous person forsaken or their progeny begging for bread”.
Beautiful piety, but controversial because it is hardly in accord with human experience. How can King David or anyone else really say they have never seen a righteous person suffering from hunger?
Of course it is possible that someone living in a palace is shielded from the realities of life, but David didn’t always live in a palace and he must have witnessed poverty and hunger before he became king.
Because there may be a hungry poverty-stricken guest at the table, some people recite this verse quietly out of human concern.
Others think the verb which we translate “to see” might also mean “to enjoy (seeing)” – as in Kohelet 9:9, which says, “Enjoy (‘re’eh’) life”, or maybe it means “to gloat over”, as in Psalm 22:18.
Whatever the meaning, the verse comes in a messianic context, implying, “May there come a time when no-one’s eyes will witness poverty, hunger, deprivation or evil!”
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com