For the week of July 9, 2011 / 7 Tammuz 5771
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 22:2 - 25:9
Haftarah: Micah 5:6 - 6:8


He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8; ESV)

For the past several years I have been fulfilling various roles for a high-tech firm. More recently I have been working in the area of software testing. An essential aspect of software development is the establishment of requirements. Without requirements it is impossible to determine if the finished product is what was truly desired by the company. This is especially evident at the testing phase, since in order to determine whether something passes or fails necessarily implies that the item is sufficiently defined. One cannot claim something works or doesn't work if requirements were never clarified.

One of the interesting elements about this issue is that regardless of whether or not a project has clearly defined requirements, requirements always exist. They may be few; they may be many. They may be reasonably achievable or not. However difficult it might be for the initiators of a project to articulate their requirements, they will have - however vague they may be - expectations for that project. Expectations are requirements.

What's true in business is also true in every other aspect of life. All of us live each day with a sense of requirements. From determining what to wear, the route we take to work or school, how we interact with family, friends, colleagues, and the public - even though we do so unconsciously most of the time - we are constantly fulfilling requirements.

For some reason many of us - both in our personal and business lives - hesitate to determine requirements. Even though the clarification of requirements is key to successful business and living, we tend to prefer them to be vague. Perhaps this is due to the desire to keep every option open in case something better comes along. Or sometimes we so fear failure that we think that as long as we don't define our requirements, we cannot be held accountable for failure. I think it is evident that the fear of failure is, therefore, one of the greatest causes of lack of success. Unless we clarify requirements, we will never know if we are truly successful.

Thankfully, God, through the Scriptures, has provided us with clearly defined requirements. This week's Haftarah includes a high-level requirements statement. This statement is not designed to be understood as a simplistic list as if God expects us to only do these few things. Rather it is a summary that embodies the detail of God's extensive requirements.

The prophet Micah summaries God's requirements as, "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." If we are careful to fulfill these requirements, we can be confident that we are living life exactly the way God designed it. Any other agenda, goal, or desire is contrary to God's requirements. Even those of us who claim to be keen to do God's will have a tendency to ignore his requirements in favor of our own. We may imagine that God wants us to fill our lives with religious rituals, money, or grand projects, but if our efforts fail to stay within the confines of Micah's words, we will fail to meet God's requirements.

It is remarkable how much is covered by this requirement statement. God calls us "to do justice." This means we must be careful to always do what God has determined is right - both in our personal lives and unto others. We are "to love kindness." The word for kindness can also be translated "mercy". It's a way to speak of God-inspired love. As we strive to always do right, we must do so with an attitude of kindness, mercy and love. Justice and mercy are not contradictory. It's that neither are ever fully achieved unless they are held in balance. The final statement, "to walk humbly with your God," gives us proper context within which we do justice and mercy. The justice and mercy we are called to do is not a humanistic one which we determine on our own. Rather it must be that which has been defined by the God of Israel. This includes both our need to be in right relationship with him through trusting in the Messiah and to adhere to the abundant practical life directives we read throughout the Scriptures.

God in his graciousness has not left us with vague, undefined requirements. Rather he has told us what is good and what he requires of us. Therefore, let us be sure to pay close attention to his requirements and live.

In last week's TorahBytes message I got out of my comfort zone and posted an original song on YouTube. This week, I would like to share with you a song by Steven Curtis Chapman on this week's theme. It's a well-produced live version of his song The Walk. He is backed up by his two sons.

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