Two fantasies, divine and human
Parashat Behukotai on the fantasy that conceals the human potential that is contained within the divine - and the divine potential that is contained within the human being.
This week's Torah portion lists the blessings bestowed upon those who perform God's commandments and the curses inflicted on those who do not: "If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments" (Leviticus 26:3 ) and, in contrast, "But if ye will not hearken unto Me, and will not do all these commandments" (Lev. 26:14 ).
The fact that the blessings and curses are presented in the first person transforms this from being a nominal text concerned with reward and punishment into a psychological drama which reveals the divine fantasy of the ideal relationship with God. He promises that Canaan's earth will be fertile, that his people will triumph over their enemies and will draw close to him: "And I will set My tabernacle among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be My people" (Lev. 26:11-12 ).
In this fantasy, God will establish his home in the midst of the Children of Israel, and his soul (of whose existence we first learn here ), whose natural inclination is to flee from the Israelites, will not do so but rather will remain among them. This is a process of God's "domestication" vis-a-vis his nation's camp. The climax of that process is "And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be My people." The desired connection between God and his people will be established when he will walk in their midst. Those words, "And I will walk among you" convey the essence of what the Almighty seeks.
A mention of God walking appears on a previous occasion in the Pentateuch, in the third chapter of the Book of Genesis: "And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden toward the cool of the day" (Genesis 3:8 ). Whereas, in that case God walks in the Garden of Eden, in this week's reading he implies that he wants to walk among the Israelites. Their obedience will allow God to walk among them; their disobedience will cause his soul to abhor - i.e., flee - them.
This is the divine fantasy, in which man will constitute the space within which God will tread and in which human society will essentially be God's Garden of Eden. While throughout Genesis, the Creator reveals himself to man from time to time, in the early part of the Book of Exodus, he actually descends into Egypt to show his signs there. This act culminates with the climax of proximity with his people, when Moses, the representative of man, ascends Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, and when God descends to the mountain to give Moses the tablets.
Although the conferral of the Torah seems to be the high point of this encounter, the verses relating to blessings in this week's portion demonstrate that this was only the "opening shot": The Torah is but the platform on which a totally different kind of connection can develop; it helps "mold" man so he can stand on the same space with God.
How does man feel when he understands the potential he has within him? To be close to God is a profound human aspiration and certainly the passage relating to the blessings in this week's reading is intended to spur him to act, to lead him to obey so that he will enjoy the privilege of proximity with his Maker. However, along with the aspiration to be close, there is another, diametrically different desire. There is something aggressive about God's desire to walk in human society. His people need him to be distant, to control them from a distance. Man needs his own space, one that does not contain God, a space in which man can act freely.
Our sages present this dual human reaction to God's fantasy in the following midrash: '"And I will walk among you': This phrase can be understood through a parable: A king set out to go for a walk with his tenant farmer in the orchard; however, the tenant farmer hid from the king, whereupon the king asked this farmer, 'Why are you hiding from me? I am the same as you are' Similarly, God will walk with the righteous in the Garden of Eden of the world to come, and the righteous will see him and will be shocked before him. However, He will say to them, 'I am the same as you are'" (Torat Hakohanim, Behukotai, 1:3 ).
The king sets out to go walking with the farmer; here ends the allegorical interpretation of the verse. This is the interpretation of the verse "And I will walk among you": Thereafter, the parable goes on to describes man's reaction to God's promise. There is a lack of congruity between the king's actions and the expectations of the farmer. The latter reacts to the idea of the monarch strolling in the orchard with him in the same way that Adam reacts when he hears God's voice: Both the farmer and Adam hide from the "superior" being.
This time, unlike in the story of the Garden of Eden, however, God does not ask man, "Who told thee that thou wast naked?" Nor does he ask "Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?" (Gen. 3:11 ). God does not ask man what the external circumstances are that have led him to the knowledge that he is naked. Instead he corrects man's misconception when asking (as the king asks the farmer ): "Why are you hiding from me? Here I am walking in your space together with you."
Whereas in Genesis man hides from God because he has sinned, here in the midrash, man has not sinned but has merely become accustomed to the fact that God is distant from him. The idea of seeking a place to hide stems from man's mistaken conception that there is a gap between him and the Almighty. As noted, the king's declaration is intended to placate the farmer and to draw him out of his hiding place; however, in reality, the declaration is intended to explain the radical meaning of man walking together with his king in the orchard: "I am the same as you are." God and man are in the same space.
The king's surprising answer concludes the dialogue. The farmer's response is not given; the reader is not told whether he has been placated, has emerged from hiding and walks with the king in his garden or whether he continues to hide. Instead of depicting the farmer's reaction, the midrash moves on from the allegory to an interpretation of the text. The midrash presents a picture of the Garden of Eden in the world to come. The king is God and the tenant farmer represents the righteous who are "shocked to find themselves in God's presence," just like as the farmer is, who hides from his ruler. The midrash's focus is not the farmer's response, which is echoed in the reaction of the righteous to God's presence; instead, the midrash focuses on God's revelations of himself: "Here I am walking in your space together with you."
The promise, "And I will walk among you," breaks down the familiar barrier between heaven and earth. Although the idea of God and man walking together in the garden is the essence of the divine fantasy - and perhaps part of the human fantasy - the change in the relationship between man and the Almighty is so radical that the farmer hides from the king and the righteous are "shocked before God."
God's declaration brings the significance of this encounter to a climax. Man has the potential to be equal to his Maker, and the latter has the potential to be equal to man. That is the significance the midrash attributes to "And I will walk among you." It is a fantasy that conceals the human potential that is contained within the divine - and the divine potential that is contained within the human being.