At synagogue this past Sabbath, our Torah reading covered the first portion of the book of Genesis. We revisited the Garden of Eden, tasted the bitterness and shame of Adam and Eve’s sin, and traversed through ten generations between Adam and Noah. In the midst of all this, my attention was transfixed on the short but meaningful story of Enoch.
I assume that when most people study Genesis, they don’t give much notice to Enoch, whose sole appearance in the Torah is limited to a few verses: Genesis 5:18-25. And considering the lives of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the contributions they made to mankind, Enoch plays a minute role in the grand scheme of things. The story of Enoch might be short, but it has deep lessons we should not ignore.
When we contemplate the language used to describe his life, we find that Enoch was considered a righteous individual, who, as the verse explains, “walked with God” in a time period when the world was plagued by immorality and sin. We learn from Genesis 6:5 that “God saw the negative deeds of man increasing in the land, and the desires of his heart wicked all day.”
In a world struck with corruption and negative deeds, who was Enoch and what did he do to earn the admirable title “walks with God”? Very few individuals in the Torah merited this title of praise – just Abraham and Noah.
Ancient Jewish texts reveal that Enoch was a simple shoemaker. And, in his simplicity, humility, and honesty he rose to great spiritual heights. The sages teach that as he went about his day fixing peoples’ shoes, he constantly contemplated God’s existence, gave praise for his ability to work and earn his sustenance, and prayed that he would perform his job as a shoemaker to the utmost of his potential so that his clients would not only have comfort, but would find healing and faith in their lives. It was Enoch’s simple faith and love of God that earned him the biblical title “walks with God.”
It is central to Jewish belief that we should strive to find connection to God in the most mundane activity, and that through the simplest physical acts we perform daily, we should aim to elevate ourselves and those around us. Scriptures beautifully teach us that when we work with integrity and respect for others, we elevate our workplace. When we are consciously aware that God is everywhere and knows everything, we become better spouses, parents, siblings, and friends. We start to take on godly attributes.
Enoch truly reflected God and never forgot the biblical truth that “the whole world is filled with His glory.” Therefore, even as he was fixing peoples’ shoes he saw a higher purpose, and through his constant awareness of the Almighty, he was able to connect to God at all times – even during the mundane act of working for a living.
Enoch’s level of uninterrupted God-consciousness is an attribute we can all work toward. Enoch, a biblical man who “walked with God,” did not distinguish between holy and mundane or between work and prayer; he united body with spirit, and by doing so he gave God the ultimate glory in this physical world and inspired others to do so as well.