“You have declared the Lord this day to be your God, and to walk in his ways, and to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and to listen to his voice…” …Deuteronomy 26:17
What does it mean to “walk in his ways?” God is God; we are puny humans. How can we possibly walk in His ways?
The Talmud (Sotah 14a) answers the question for us:
What does the text mean: “to walk in his ways?” Is it possible for a human being to walk after the Shechinah (Divine presence); for has it not been said: For the Lord thy God is a devouring fire? But [the meaning is] to walk after the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He. As He clothes the naked, for it is written: And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife coats of skin, and clothed them, so do thou also clothe the naked. The Holy One, blessed be He, visited the sick, for it is written: And the Lord appeared unto him by the oaks of Mamre, so do thou also visit the sick. The Holy One, blessed be He, comforted mourners, for it is written: And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed Isaac his son, so do thou also comfort mourners. The Holy one, blessed be He, buried the dead, for it is written: And He buried him in the valley, so do thou also bury the dead.
To walk in God’s ways means to be compassionate. To care about other people. It does not mean, God forbid, that you should puff yourself and think you are God. It does not mean to be judgmental toward other people – God, after all is “the true judge.” It doesn’t mean to be vengeful toward others… “for vengeance is Mine, says the Lord.” It means to be compassionate, to be caring, to be understanding.
It’s a sad commentary that to ask “who does he think he is, God?” is a term of derision. It means someone who’s lording it over others. The image that SHOULD come to mind for someone acting like God is someone like Mother Teresa, or the Dalai Lama. Or Moses himself, humble, caring for his fellow Jews more than he cared for himself.
This is an especially important lesson to remember this time of year, Elul, as we approach the Day of Judgment on Rosh Hashanah. It’s why we step up our charitable giving in Elul. Not because we think we can somehow bribe God to give us a pass for our sins because we gave a thousand bucks to the Federation or ten shekels to a beggar. Rather so that we can remember that we need to walk in God’s ways. We need to show compassion and caring, and if we show compassion and caring for others, God will also show compassion and caring for us.