Parshat Bechukotai contains several references to walking. “If you walk in my laws (“be’chukotai telechu”) and keep my mitzvot” – you will be blessed with rain and peace and God will “walk among you.” The section of brachot concludes with the declaration that God took us out of Egypt and slavery and enabled us to “walk upright.” Why does the imagery of walking recur, and what is its connection to laws and blessings?
The opening verse contains superfluous language. “If you walk in my chukim (laws) and observe my mitzvot (commandments)…” If one observes the mitzvot, what does “If you walk in my chukim” add? Rashi, citing Sifra, says that “to walk in my chukim” means “If you study my Torah laboriously.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks, why would one specifically study chukim – the laws which defy logic and understanding!? He quotes the Alter Rebbe, who offers a unique interpretation of the phrase “be’chukotai telechu.” The language of chukotai is related to the word chakika, engraving. Through studying areas of Torah which we have to struggle with (chukim), we humble ourselves, and Torah becomes truly part of us. And the walking, telechu, describes continual effort and forward movement.
The imagery of engraving and Torah study is used in the midrash about Rabbi Akiva’s beginnings as well. Rabbi Akiva ponders how water erodes stone and concludes through this that Torah, which is hard to understand, can then certainly engrave his heart. Rabbi Akiva began the humbling journey of Torah study at age forty and defied expectations by becoming one of the greatest Sages.
The engraving in Rabbi Akiva’s story is also about empowering oneself in Torah study from a place of love and choice, even if it is daunting. These sources encourage us to continue searching for personal meaning in Torah, and to keep making effort, so our lives are a journey through Torah. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson