Lekh Lekha (Genesis 17): Walk in My Presence

YHWH appeared to Avram and said to him, “I am El Shaddai; walk in my presence and have integrity.”  (Gen. 17:1)

God’s covenant with Abraham has, up to this point, simply been a matter of divine promise. Now, for the first time, we are introduced to Abraham’s side of the covenant. In two very short phrases, we are given the categories of holiness and morality that will be adumbrated in detail at Sinai.

“Walk in my presence.”  Are we not always in God’s presence, now and at every moment?  But we forget.

Our awareness of God is often obscured by routine.  Perhaps this routine is necessary to get things done, to prevent us from being continually stupefied by the fact that we are capable of thought, of appreciating beauty . . . , in short, that we ARE.   But we must not let such practical considerations cut us off essentially from wonder, which is the root of awareness of God.

“The surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted.  Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of all sin.”  So writes Abraham Joshua Heschel, an unsurpassed exponent of wonder.  For Rabbi Heschel wonder, or “radical amazement,” is essential for “an authentic awareness of that which is; it refers not only to what we see but also to the very act of seeing, as well as to our own selves, to the selves that see and are amazed at their ability to see.”

Perhaps for this reason, the Rabbis took a slightly different view of the Ten Commandments than their predecessors. Rather than understanding its first words, “I am YHWH your God,” as a prologue, they counted them as the first commandment, according to which we are responsible for awareness of God.


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