• Light of Torah

The 'walk' and 'work' of Torah

In the Book of Leviticus we read:

If you follow my statutes and keep my commandments and observe them faithfully, I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. (Lev. 26:3-4; NRSV)

Most versions read: “If you follow my statutes...” However, the Hebrew verb is, literally, “walk”. What does this suggest: to walk in the Lord’s ways?

Is “walking” in the commandments of the Torah a more active, alert, responsive set of choices than “following”? This is the kind of questioning that arises in Jewish tradition, with its lively sense of enquiry and careful attention to the detail of the biblical text.

Let’s taste the insights of three Jewish thinkers from a wide range of periods in Jewish history.

We begin with the revered 11th century Torah scholar Rashi [1] and his sources.

When we read “If you follow my statutes”, we may think this refers to the fulfilment of the commandments. However, in the next breath the Scripture says, “and observe/keep my commandments”. Since the command to observe, keep or fulfil the commandments is already stated, what is the need for the phrase “If you follow my statutes”? What additional meaning does it convey? According to Rashi’s interpretation, the sacred text is telling us that one must toil (labour, work) in the study of Torah. Why? Since the Hebrew word for “follow” literally means “walk”, then this is a strenuous activity. And so, too, is the study of Torah. Further, you shall toil in the study of Torah in order