Earlier this year I did a funeral for a wonderful older man who died feeling fulfilled in his life. I asked his family, “How did you know that he felt fulfilled”? His widow told me that everyday he would come up to her and say, “I’m the luckiest man alive.” It was his way of saying “I love you.”
“What does luck have to do with love?” I asked.
“Everything,” she smiled.
Before they met each other, she was in love before. She went to a dance before the war with this other boy. She was madly in love with him and really thought that he was “the one.” He was crazy about her too. She told me that she was already planning her wedding in her head by the time they arrived at the dance hall. And then the fight happened.
Her boyfriend got awful drunk at the dance and got into an argument that turned violent. During the fight she found herself in the scrum and got punched by mistake. Her boyfriend never noticed and kept up the fight. She laid on the ground crying when out of the corner of the room another young man rushed to her side and took her outside to look at her face. It turns out that he was a medical student and just wanted to help out.
Six months later she married him. He became a doctor. They were married for over sixty years.
She told me that her late husband felt lucky because if her boyfriend had not drunk so much, he would have never peeled himself out of the corner to say hello to her. His compassion overcame his timidity. She told me that if she had her way, she would have married a man that was a violent drunk and would’ve been miserable, but because she got punched at a party, she married the kindest soul she had ever encountered. They were both lucky they found each other.
Luck is part of love.
The story of this couple reminds me of this week’s Torah portion Eikev. Moses reminds the Israelites that if you only demand to live life in a particular way, according to your own rules of engagement, then the meaning of your life will diminish. Moses reminds this younger generation that life is difficult as an adult. There will be many times when what you thought how life would turn out is just not the case. The Israelites want to be liberated “their way,” God had a different idea.
Three times in Eikev, Moses boils the message of Judaism down into a single, simple truth. What God wants from us is to be humble, reflect on our lives and ‘Walk in God’s ways.” (Deut. 8:6, 10:12, 11:22). It’s not that God has a plan for each of you. You wouldn’t know it even if that were true. The goal of the Torah is to give you means to sacred ends. As the Book of Proverbs teaches, “the Torah is a sacred path, not a destination.” (Prov. 3:17). None of us know exactly where this path leads. What we do know is that it is filled with wonder and surprises. It is filled with despair and delight. It is the path of life.
In Judaism we call this path Halacha, a way of understanding the world through a spiritual lens that helps us and guide us through life. Halacha grounds and humbles those that walk upon it. It can help you gain focus to your religious yearnings and expand your spiritual experience. Often we just want to do things, “our way.” Halacha takes you out of your own rules of engagement and helps you and sets for you a path of discovery. This week’s Torah portion constantly reminds us that God’s world is full of wonder and delight in spite of the plans we make for ourselves, not because of them.
For me, Halacha are the rules of engagement, but not in the way you might think. Halacha is more than “Jewish Law.” It means what the Torah says it means: Halacha is a path. Every path is a guide, a way, and a means to go from where you are to somewhere over the horizon. More than all of that, every path invites your forward.
Halacha is an invitation.
By walking on the path of Torah you are invited to expand your notion of self to encompass those you love and love you. By walking on this path your moral horizon grows as much as the physical one. You are more invested in the world as you move through it. You are brought into relationship with those around you, those who have walked this path before you and will walk after you. Walking in God’s path means rushing to the side of a crying girl, helping friends in trouble, spending energy teaching your children and remembering your ancestors. Walking God’s path makes you larger than yourself. You are engaged in the world as it is, and engaged to the world as it could be.
Halacha is an invitation to eternity.
The Torah gives you the path to delight in life’s surprises, to connect you to the past, the future, and the Holy Presence that is with us always.