D’var Torah – Walk before Me and be perfect

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 30 October 2020

‘Hithalech l’fanai veh’yei tamim’ –
Walk before me and be perfect

So God instructs Abraham at the beginning of our Torah portion tomorrow morning.


The rabbis, always acutely aware of the use of language in Torah, notice that the way God speaks to Abraham is rather different to the description of Noah.
Noah, the Torah has told us, was a righteous man, who ‘walked with God’.
But Abraham is instructed ‘walk before me’.

To the rabbis, this difference reflected a difference in moral and religious maturity between the two – according to Rabbi Yehudah in Midrash Bereshit Rabbah, the difference can be compared to a king with two children, one grown up and the other a child.  Just as we say to our children, to the child, the king said “Walk with me” but to the adult, “Walk before me”.
Abraham is grown up enough to walk ahead, while Noah is not.


This idea of moral maturity requiring us to ‘walk before God’ is a powerful one.  To recognise that it is not enough to – metaphorically – hold the hand.   To be morally mature is to be brave enough to lead the way.

This is not something that Noah can achieve.  While living a righteous life, he is unable to challenge that which he sees around him.  As Jonathan Sacks has put it of Noah, ‘righteousness is not the same as leadership’.  But Abraham – flawed as he is – challenges not only other people but even God at Sodom and Gomorrah.

Leadership requires that you walk in front, take the harder path, do the right thing even if it leaves you exposed.


For so many of the strands of this Shabbat, this idea, ‘Hithalech l’fanai’, feels very relevant.

As we mark the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin, it was this which made him so special, and the loss so substantial.  He was a leader who walked before, who was willing to step beyond that which was easy to that which was right.

As we think about the week just passed and the week ahead – we might apply this idea to current issues of leadership too.  To walk before – is about willingness to challenge, willingness to do the right thing even if it won’t necessarily find favour with those you lead.  It is this that we hopefully are now seeing re-emerging in the Labour Party, in response to the EHRC report into anti-Semitism released this week.

And it is kind of leadership that we know the world needs from across the ocean, and are tentatively hopeful that Tuesday night might provide.


But ‘hithalech l’fanai’ is not only about leadership.
With these words in our portion tomorrow, God establishes the covenantal relationship between God and the Jewish people.  It is not only leaders who must walk ahead, not only Abraham.
As Jews it is our task – not simply to stick to the rules, not to do the easy thing, the expedient thing, but to do the right thing.

As we face our challenges right now, and especially the challenge of a winter dominated by coronavirus; as we face more weeks, perhaps months, of limitations in our lives, we have to be those exemplars of thoughtful responsible behaviour that God demanded of Abraham that he be.


Hithalech l’fanai veh’yei tamim
May we find it within ourselves to walk before God, and if not perhaps quite to be perfect, at least to strive to be the best that we can be.