We have reached the word הלך [halach] which means ‘to walk’ or ‘to go’. The reason that the word הלך is so frequent is that ‘walking’ and ‘going places’ are very common activities. But even more than this, the word הלך is used in many different compound words and phrases. For instance, the term הלך לישון means ,”went to sleep”, and the term הלך לאיבוד means to ‘got lost’. When you say that something ‘לא הולך ‘ you are saying that it is just not going right. And if you want to know how things are going, you just say איך הולך?
The fact that the word הולך can be used in so many different combinations creates some interesting Bible commentaries. Let’s look at one example. At the beginning of the Book of Genesis we are introduced to 2 characters, Noah and Abraham. Both of these are righteous people, but whereas Noah is a flawed character, Abraham is thought to have reached moral perfection and the highest understanding of God that is possible. The Torah describes them in two different ways.
Concerning Noah we are told that:
But to Abraham God says:
So Noah walks with God whereas Abraham walks before god. But who is better? It would appear that Noah reached a higher level for he walked closer to God! Could that possibly be true?
The Midrash [Tanchuma Yashan] explains that indeed Noah walks closer to God, but not because he has achieved a higher spiritual level than Abraham. You can compare the difference between Noah and Abraham to the difference between a child and a grown person. A parent always stays close to a young child in order to support them, to help them up when they fall, to prevent them from making mistakes, to get them out of trouble. Once their child has grown up then they become independent. The parent can then give them the space to walk on their own and a carve out of their own path. This is the difference between Noah and Abraham. Noah is at the beginning of his spiritual journey and therefore he needs to walk close to God. Abraham, on the other hand, has reached spiritual independence. God lets him go on his own way.
I particularly like this Midrash because it is counterintuitive. We might have thought that the highest spiritual adamant is to draw as close to God as possible. But the Midrash says the opposite. The higher spiritual attainment is to gain God’s trust. Being independent is the true goal.
There is a lot more I could say about this word but it looks like I have used up my all my space. Or, as we say in Hebrew אני צריך ללכת – I need to go!
Rabbi Chaim Weiner
My Hebrew Word thanks the World Zionist Organisation and Masorti Olami for their support of this Project.