Why is it that religiosity is defined as sitting in services and reciting the prayers authored millennia ago?
The Torah suggests a different ideal. “If you walk after My laws, and keep My commandments and do them, I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit….” (Leviticus 26:3-4)
The ideal is not then the recitation of prayers but walking. Our forefathers Abraham and Isaac are in fact praised not for their prayers but for walking with God: “The God in whose ways my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked…” (Genesis 48:15)
Judaism is a religion of action, of movement. We follow a path. In fact the Hebrew word for Jewish law, halachah, comes from the word to walk. We are to walk; we are to do. Sitting and talking, even praying and singing, are not the ideals, but rather participating, engaging and moving. We are identified by our doing; we are judged by walking the path. Proper intent and feelings are secondary. Doing is primary.
The prayer that is the hallmark of the bar or bat mitzvah, an aliya, is named as well by its movement. We ascend to the bima. And then after reciting these blessings for Torah what words are offered to the participant? Yashar koach. May you continue to have the strength to stand upright. There is a path to follow. Walking defines.
One more example. At the conclusion of shiva one is supposed to leave the house and go for a walk. We are counseled to take these first, tentative steps. We don’t wait until the feelings motivate us to re-enter the world at large. First we walk. First we step outside. Eventually feelings might follow. Our souls are restored. The Jewish contention, found in this week’s portion, is that we find healing by taking these first hesitant steps.
Recently I went for a walk. I looked up through the cold but gentle drizzle at a limb torn from a tree by a winter storm. I realized that the tree continues to reach for the heavens. Its leaves now begin to open up to the spring air. The edges of green unfurl. I wondered, will it be bruised again by another storm? And yet the tree appears to grow more sturdy. Its trunk widens each and every year.
The broken branch remains forever.
And I continue on my walk.