Do, Love, Walk

Do, Love, Walk

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon

(republished by request)

The Prophet Micah said to the Israelites, “Remember what Balak, king of Moab, plotted against You, and how Balaam responded to him, and you will recognize the gracious acts of the Lord.” Seeing that their safe journey in the past and now in Judah could be due to God’s handiwork, Micah addressed the Israelite’s response with increasingly powerful questions, “With what shall I approach the Lord: Do homage to God on high?” “Shall I approach him with burnt offerings? Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriads of streams of oil? Should I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for my own sin?” In effect, God served you well, so how will you give thanks to God?

Micah built this literary tension and then delivered the punch, “It has been told you, O mortal, what is good, and what the Eternal requires of you — only this: to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

The brilliance of Micah’s contribution to Israelite life led to an unprecedented and rich new approach to serving God. Now the unblemished deed (justice, mercy, and humility) was as important as the unblemished sacrifice. Their salvation would be found in deeds of social justice rather than sacrifices. Timeless and timely, justice, mercy, and humility would be enough to assuage God’s wrath and earn God’s love.

Today, justice, mercy, and humility are still guideposts for what to do and how to be. But even before we arrive at these subjects, we learn from the verbs that precede them: do, love, and walk. These are the words that prompted prophets, sages, rabbis, and advocates throughout history to make a difference. They understood that nothing short of these actions would ever accomplish what was at stake, namely, justice, mercy, and humility, as God commanded them. Prayer and faith would not suffice.

In our complex world of intense anti-Semitism stretching across the world, strained race relations at home, and deep partisanship in our nation, we cannot expect to be rid of them with prayer, alone. Vigils and prayer rallies have their place, but unless we can translate words into actions, and intentional acts of personal deeds, then it will be for naught. The issues that tear apart our cities and threaten all of us will be best addressed by serious leaders who are willing and able to face these crises squarely and honestly. They don’t have to seek God’s input or wait for God’s call to them before they act; rather, they and we have already been told “what is good and what God requires of us.” It is only this: to do justly, and love mercy and walk humbly with your God. 

Judaism teaches that if one’s wisdom is greater than one’s deeds, then one’s wisdom will not endure; but if one’s deeds are greater than one’s wisdom, then one’s wisdom will endure. It’s all about one’s deeds. Knowing the difference marks a starting point from which all reasonable people can work together to do, to love, and to walk.  What will you do to make a difference? How will you demonstrate love? And how will you model humility before your God, despite your own power and leadership? The enduring lesson of Micah is important to learn; it’s even more important to teach.  


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