The Final Blessing

Rabbi Dr. Darrell Ginsberg

The blessings promised by God to the Jewish people in this week’s Torah portion cover a wide range of bounty within the physical world, including an increased population, a permanent state of peace, abundance of food, and other incredible alterations in the standard natural order. The closing blessing offers one final gracious gift from God (Vayikra 26:12):

I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people

As we know, the Torah is filled with anthropomorphic descriptions of God, and a fundamental tenet Judaism is to ensure these are not taken literally. Obviously, the notion of God “walking” is no exception. Clearly, there is a deeper idea at play here.

Turning to Rashi, at first glance, makes things worse:

I will stroll with you in the Garden of Eden, as if I were one of you, and you will not be terrified of Me.”

On an emotional level, this sounds like a wonderful blessing; after all, the physical representation of the world to come, replete with a sort of “hanging out with God”, is quite appealing to the childish part of our nature. However, when one’s intellect kicks in, this should present as an even more problematic point of view than the literal presentation offered in the Torah. What is Rashi telling us?

Both the Ramban and Sforno offer competing interpretations to the notion of God “walking”. The Ramban (the first of two interpretations) compares the concept of God walking amongst us to the idea of a king being among his people:

This means that My conduct with you will be well known, as when a king walks in the midst of his army, supplying them with all their needs.”

It is quite clear he is not taking the verse in the Torah in a literal manner. Yet, one must ask what this final blessing is actually adding to the picture.

The Sforno takes a much different approach. He notes the unique use of the word “Vehithalachti” (as written in the Torah) versus “Athalech”, another possible permutation. How would this difference be manifest? He explains that the term used in the Torah implies a multi-directional walking, going from place to place, spread out. This is in contrast to the notion of the Divine Presence, or shechinah, being localized on one spot – the Temple. Had the Torah used “Athalech”, one would assume that it would be referring to this concept of only seeing the Divine Presence in the Temple. Instead, we will see it present in the Sages of each generation. 

How exactly is this a great blessing?

At this point, we see three very different views as to what the concept of God “walking” refers to, yet all seem to make matters even more confusing than they already were. 

If one were to take a broader look at the various positions, it would be appear Rashi is in his own camp, so to speak. Rashi is the one opinion who maintains that the blessing of the verse is not granted in the domain of this world, but is reserved for the World to Come. Herein lies the conceptual direction proposed by Rashi. Every blessing listed prior to this one lies in this world, the physical world. All the blessings reflect how the physical world will bow to our needs, supplying us in a fantastic manner, leading to our ability to worship God on the highest possible level. Keep in mind, we are not to receive these great benefits to indulge our instinctual drives; rather, these benefits allow us to focus all of our energies on the sole objective of worship of God. As this final blessing is the culmination of all the previous ones, Rashi suggests that there is a shift taking place. While these blessings assist us in this world, we must keep in mind that this world is simply a temporary state of existence for all of us. When we follow the Torah and its commandments and receive these various blessings, we are now in the ideal state of human existence in this world. This impact is not just limited to this world, but has a profound effect on us in the World to Come. It is difficult to ultimately understand the depth of Rashi’s idea, but one can see an idea of “familiarity” with God in the theme of this explanation. The same way we will live lives tuned to God in this world, we will relate to God in the same manner in the World to Come. Obviously the experience will be completely different, but our level of perfection achieved in this world will be stamped on our souls and change our existences in the next world. 

As mentioned above, both the Ramban and Sforno take much different approaches to this issue. According to the Ramban, there is some type of publicizing of God’s role at play here, where He is viewed as the provider to everyone’s needs. Who is the intended recipient of this propagation? One could argue it refers to the world at large, meaning the other nations. As we know, a primary role of the Jewish people is to be mekadesh shem Hashem, to sanctify the name of God. When we properly adhere to the commandments, and receive these blessings, we are fulfilling that role in conjunction with God. At this point, the world turns to us and sees this unique relationship with God, and ultimately come to recognize God as the true King. However, one could posit that the publicizing is directed towards the Jewish people. Yet one could ask, don’t the Jews see God as King through the other blessings as well? Without question, elements of God’s kingship are on full display throughout these various blessings. However, when the system of blessings has been completed and we are now on the highest level possible, our view of God as King changes profoundly. We see God as the King, our relationship to Him as clear as possible. His dominion is not viewed in the realm of the particulars, but as merely true and complete dominion.

The Sforno moves in a different direction. His primary focus is on the nature of this “walking”, that it is one of a zig-zag nature, rather than localized to one place. The expression of this non-linear walking is in the various righteous people of the generation. Why is this such an important blessing? Prior to this verse, God indicates that He will place His “shechina”, or Divine Presence, amongst us. Normally speaking, this is a reference to the Temple. The Temple served as a central point of worship for the Jewish people; even today, we face the Temple during all of our prayer services. Yet, at times we fail to realize that the institution of the Temple was itself a “compromise” of sorts. A Sage may not profess the same need for a focal point of God in this world. He sees God through the Torah, through its infinite ideas, and through the surrounding universe. Yet the average Jew lacks the means to naturally access God. To some degree, the Temple serves as a necessary remedy. It serves as a conduit, where through being engaged in the process of worship there, or studying the ideas integral to its function, one can use the Temple as a vehicle to a greater understanding of God. The Sforno could be using this concept to isolate a unique benefit to the Jewish people upon receiving all of the blessings. The need for the Temple will be reduced considerably, with people able to access deep ideas concerning God through the Sages. The crutch of the Temple would be minimized, the Divine Presence spread out over the entire land through the conduit of the Sages. This indeed would be a tremendous blessing.

May we merit this and all the other blessings, so we can engage in the worship of God to the highest possible degree.