Walk Behind Me
How far back is “behind”? In Hebrew, there are different words for
“behind” that address this question. The word achar indicates a short
distance behind, while the word acharei indicates a long distance
If the Almighty invites us to walk “behind” him, it would seem to be
a positive thing, an expression of divine favor drawing us near into a
close relationship with Him. If so, He would want us to walk close
behind Him, so to speak. Strangely, however, when Moses exhorts the
Jewish people to walk “behind the Lord,” he uses the word acharei,
which means far behind. How do we account for this anomaly?
The commentators explain that Moses actually intended the word
acharei to be a source of hope and encouragement for the Jewish
people. Sometimes, a person may become so wrapped up in his own
little world that he loses sight of the big picture. Instead of making good
use of his youth, health and vigor to grow in a spiritual sense and come
close to the Almighty, he focuses primarily on material acquisitions and
The years fly by. One day, he takes stock of his life and comes to
the shocking realization that he has frittered away his best and most
vigorous years on matters of little consequence. He suddenly perceives
how far he has drifted away from the Almighty, and he is discouraged.
Where can he begin? How can he ever make up all that ground he has
lost? How can he ever hope to achieve the closeness with the Almighty
that derives from lifetime of spiritual exertions.
Do not be discouraged, says Moses. Walk behind the Lord even if it
is acharei, even if following behind from a very great distance. The
Almighty values highly a “walking behind” motivated by a desperate
awareness of the gulf that needs to be traversed. Take one step at a
time. One step will lead to the next and bring you ever closer. Do not
A king was seeking a suitable husband for his daughter. He wanted
a man of stout heart and strong character, and he devised a contest to
find such a man. He placed a long ladder, whose rungs were slippery
and rickety, against an extremely high wall. The ladder reached to the
“The first young man that reaches the roof,” declared the king, “will
have won the hand of the royal princess in marriage. But anyone who
attempts the climb and fails will be sent to the dungeon.”
A few athletic young men, experienced mountain climbers, rose to
challenge, but when they were no more than halfway up the ladder they
could no longer maintain their grip on the slippery and unstable rungs.
They fell to the ground and were immediately dragged off to the
dungeon for wasting the king’s time. Witnessing their failure, no other
young men dared make the attempt.
Presently, one fellow steeped forward and offered to make the
climb. Halfway up, he too began to lose his grip. He looked up at the
long distance remaining and could not imagine how he would ever
reach the top, but he refused to give up. Tenaciously, he continued to
climb, hand over hand, rung by painful rung. All of a sudden, he found
himself on the roof. He had activated a hidden spring that catapulted
him all the way to the top.
“You have won my daughter’s hand,” said the king. “But how did
you know about the hidden spring?”
“I didn’t,” said the young man. “But I knew that the king’s offer was
not frivolous. If the king laid down the challenge, it must be somehow
possible to accomplish it. So I refused to give up, no matter what.”
In our own lives, we sometimes look at a distant spiritual goal and
think it is way beyond our grasp, and so we become discouraged and
give up. But we can never know how things will develop. If we keep
trying tenaciously without becoming discouraged, it is always possible
that the Almighty will send us unexpected break that will catapult us all
the way to that elusive goal. Whether it is in prayer, study or some other
spiritual endeavor, we may think we are on such an elementary level
that there is no hope for us. Never give up hope. One day, everything
may just fall into place so that we suddenly find ourselves making great
strides we never thought possible.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.