Rabbi William Silverman told the following story. One time when he was a chaplain in the U.S. Army, he was on call in a military hospital.
He was called to the bedside of a young soldier. Seeing his yarmulke, the soldier said to him, “Rabbi, I am a Protestant. I hope you will not try to change my faith.”
The rabbi smiled and said, “My son, I do not want to change your faith. I want your faith to change you.”
In this week’s Torah portion of Shoftim, Moshe continues to summarize for the Israelites some of the ethical principles of the mitzvot. He says: “If you will keep all these commandments to perform them, which I command you this day, to love the L-rd, your G-d, and to walk in His ways all your days … Hashem will reward you.”
Of course, we human beings cannot literally walk in the ways of our infinite, omnipotent G-d. What is meant here is that G-d wants us to imitate His loving and kind actions.
The Talmud asks this question and answers: “Rabbi Hama said in the name of Rabbi Hanina, what does it mean, ‘You shall walk after the L-rd your G-d’? Is it possible to walk and follow G-d’s presence? … It means to walk after the attributes of the Holy One, Blessed is He. Just as He clothes the naked, so you too should clothe the naked. Just as He visits the sick … comforts the bereaved, etc., so you too should do these acts of kindness” (Sotah 14a).
By doing these acts and others like them, we walk in “G-d’s path,” acting as G-d does. Whenever we visit the elderly or the sick, we are “walking in G-d’s ways” and emulating His mercy. In Latin, this is called imitation dei, imitation of G-d.
The holy month of Elul just began this week. It calls us to prepare ourselves to encounter Hashem our King in a special way. It inspires us to increase our kind deeds and our mitzvot.
Rosh Hashanah and the Season of Awe will begin in a little more than three weeks. It is time for us to ask how our faith can change us and how we can walk in Hashem’s ways.
Shabbat shalom. PJC
Rabbi Eli Seidman is director of pastoral care at the Jewish Association on Aging. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association. Follow the Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter for the latest stories.