[These two drushas (commentaries/ interpretations of Torah) are by Rabbi David Seidenberg of Neohassid.org and Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center.]
First, by Rabbi David Seidenberg:
In Genesis 3:8, God is described as “mit’halekh bagan” — hyperliterally, “They heard God’s voice walking himself in the garden (of Eden)”, or more idiomatically, “They heard the sound of God walking about in the garden”.
In Leviticus 26:12, where the Torah describes the blessings that come from observing the Shmitah year, God promises “v’hit’halakhti b’tokh’khem v’hayiti lakhem lelohim” — “And I will walk myself in your midst and I will become for you God.” Both use the hitpa’el or reflexive form of the verb H.L.Kh., to walk or to go.
This is yet another direct allusion to Gan Eden in the section about the Shmitah year. The biggest such connection is that in Gan Eden humans and all the animals shared the same food supply, and we ar supposed to do so again in the Shmitah year, with all the animals, including wild animals — as it says in Lev. 25:6-7, “the land’s shabbat-produce will be for you-all for eating…and for your animal and for the wild animal in your land.”
In fact, the Shmitah year is even better than Eden, because in Eden, God would have walked in the midst of the humans, but they had already eaten from the tree, so they spurn this — “They hid”. But in the Shmitah to come, God will both walk in our midst and “become” our God — because we will welcome God to do so, and so create space for that kind of relationship to grow.
So Shmitah brings to fruition the unfulfilled potential of Eden.
There are only four other verses that use this verb to describe God: 2 Sam 7:6, 7:7, 1 Chron 17:6, Deut 23:14, using either “mit’halekh” or “hit’halakhti”. All describe how God was with us in the wilderness.
And Eden too is a kind of wilderness — which doesn’t mean “untouched by humans” but rather “unspoiled by humans” (see Evan Eisenberg, Ecology of Eden).
So there is also a sense that when God is “mit’halekh” amongst us, we are surrendering and exposing ourselves to what is wild. (This is also reflected in our relationship with animals during the Shmitah year, which I mentioned above.)
One more thing: has anyone written or read anything about the fact that both Yom Kippur and Shmitah are both called Shabbat Shabbaton (Lev 16:31 and 25:40)?
Secondly, by Rabbi Arthur Waskow:
Reb David’s drusha makes a neat connection!!
For me, the reflexive verb — May YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh the Breath of Life walk Itself among us — is inherent in the Holy One being indeed the Breath of Life, the Interbreathing that keeps all Earthly life alive, the Breath upon Which our scorching of the planet has now brought an Earth-wide choking asthma, the deepest crisis of all history. No wonder It/She/He walks/ breathes It/Her/HimSelf among us in Eden & in Shmita – for OUR Breathing embodies the One Breath
Today as in the Eden story, we are hiding, trying to pretend we do not share in the Breathing — and by our hiding we are threatening to shatter the planet as the Eden story shows that we were and still are ready to shatter the Garden of Delight. Then, as now, by refusing to restrain ourselves from gobbling up all the abundance of our Garden.
This is the archetypal story of adam and adamah. I am afraid the Christians have it right when they say it is the story of original (and ever-repeated) sin. They just have it wrong what the sin is, and what its cure: Its cures are Shabbat (which coms into human ken for the first time along with with manna — a renewal of the abundance of Eden) & Shmita (with the non-miraculous manna-like freely growing “Shabbat-growth” of the land).
Indeed, Reb David’s identification of the four other appearances of the reflexive verb in which the Breath of Life “walks Itself” are all about the Wilderness, when the manna was freely feeding the people and thus both Eden and the Shmita were present in some supernal sense.
The reflexive hit’halekh is like the reflexive yitgadal v’yitkadash in the Kaddish. There it is saying the Shmei rabbah — the Great Name – is making Itself holy and making Itself more expansive, or perhaps more grown-up. The Great Name is the Name that is woven of all our names — all the names of all beings in the entire universe. And therefore it is the Great Name Itself — WE! — Who make the Great Name more holy, more expansive, more grown-up.
May our own walking ourselves through Yom Kippur this year (2014/ 5775) express this truth: — This day that is Shabbat shabbaton on Shabbat in a year that is Shabbat shabbaton, a day that this year is also Eid al-Idha and the Day of St. Francis — for us all, may it be a beckoning to universal truth, peace, and sharing with all life.