RE'EH, Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17
This week's portion presents a near impossible religious imperative. Beginning a long list of laws covering everything from what foods may be eaten to the fixing of the three major festivals, the portion devotes nearly a third of its text to ridding the Land of Israel of idolatry. Should a false prophet arise, or should an entire city turn away from God, the entire nation must bring the prophet to justice and take up arms against the city.
As part of this discussion, though, the Torah compels the Jewish people to "hold fast" to God. The verbal root used — dabek — can be translated as "cleave," "attach" or "cling."
And the Torah uses the same family of words a full five times in the Book of Deuteronomy to refer to the ideal relationship between humans and the Almighty.
Cleaving to God, though, is difficult to define. In one instance, Rashi says that the way to attach oneself to the Divine is to cleave to Torah scholars and rabbis. In his commentary on this week's portion, he provides a different answer: In order to cleave to God, one must perform acts of kindness the way God performs them.
Mystics throughout history have attempted to explain how a finite person can grasp the infinite. Kabbalah and Chasidic thought, for instance, present d'veikut as the quintessential expression of religious devotion. Rabbi Adin Even Yisrael Steinsaltz defines the concept as "a state of mind in which all of one's powers of thought and feeling are exclusively directed to and attached to God." It's a tall order, to say the least.
The Divine Attachment
But, based on the fact that the same word for "cleaving" is used in the Book of Genesis to refer to one person's love for another, the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that, at its most basic, the Jewish people's Divine attachment is expressed in their love of God and Torah.
But the most sublime attachment comes in actually emulating the ways of God. Rashi specifies two Divine acts of kindness that provide a model for walking the walk, so to speak: burying the dead and visiting the sick.
Commentaries note that G-d personally buried Aaron the High Priest and personally visited Abraham after his circumcision, two tasks that could have reasonably been performed by others. There was no need for the Almighty to involve Himself in these tasks, but He did them anyway.
Although burying the dead is a commandment in its own right, if there's a burial society in your town, you're not legally required to preside over a funeral. Similarly, you're not required to go visit people in the hospital if there are others doing so.
Indeed, people can live their lives solely by the letter of the law without ever going that extra mile to help another in distress. A rich person, for example, could fulfill the requirement to give to charity without ever really feeling the financial impact.
Judaism, however, is about more than just the Torah's laws. Those laws have a spirit, a wisdom that transcends mere mortal calculations. The ultimate expression of Divine attachment comes in the complete surrender of self and in dedicating your every action to bringing more goodness to the world.
Rabbi Joshua Runyan, former news editor of the Jewish Exponent, is the editor of Chabad.org News. E-mail him at: [email protected] chabad.org.