Friday, August 30, 2013

Random Musing before Shabbat–Nitzavim-Vayeilekh 5773—Opening Our Own Hearts


וּמָל יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת־לְבָֽבְךָ וְאֶת־לְבַב זַרְעֶךָ לְאַֽהֲבָה אֶת־יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָֽבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ לְמַעַן חַיֶּֽיךָ:

"Then the Lord your G”d will open up your heart and the hearts of your offspring to love the Lord your G”d with all your heart and soul, in order that you may live." (The JPS translation)

I’ve written about these words before. Back in 1997 I said

“To me, there is no clearer indication, anywhere in Torah, that G”d takes an active part in the relationship between humankind, and more specifically, G”d's covenanted people Israel, and G”d than in Deut 30:6”

The Torah is replete with stories of G”d entering the hearts and minds of people. G”d hardening Pharaoh's heart is one of the best known. So we know that our Torah is telling us that G”d takes an active role.

Nowadays, however, the idea of free will, personal choice, and personal autonomy is the norm. "I'll choose to love or not love Gd." Do we really have that choice? Who is really in control?

If G”d truly loves us, who are made in G”d's image, and who are directed to keep G”d's covenant, could G”d allow us to perish as a result of our own lack of faith, our own non-belief?

G”d's statement in Deut 30:6 is G”d's proof text that G”d exists and that G”d is the big cheese. We may question and doubt G”d's existence, but even in the midst of our doubt, G”d can and will open our minds and hearts.

As we prepare for the approaching season of awe, repentance and renewal, let's make G”d's job a little easier by being open and receptive to having our hearts and minds opened to love G”d.

This year, I’m feeling it’s best if we rely even less on G”d opening our hearts and more on doing it ourselves. I’m still pretty ambivalent about the question of G”d taking an active role in our lives and in our universe. That goes along, quite nicely, with my own ambivalence about G”d and what G”d is, or if there is a concept of G”d t,hat I can fully embrace, absent some evidence beyond mere faith. Of course, even in this, I vacillate. At some times, I am absolutely certain that G”d exists. At other times, I am less concerned with G”d’s actual existence and more with simply maintaining my own faith, and seeing if it is possible to separate one from the other. And yes, there are moments when I question both the existence of G”d, and my own ability/desire/need to even wrestle with this question.

Absent belief and faith, some suggest, ritual is meaningless and pointless. I beg to differ. Sometimes, for me, the ritual is what it’s all about (that, and the hokey-pokey, of course.) Sometimes, the ritual is the only thing allowing me to even hold open the mere possibility of faith and belief. I sometimes wonder if the ritual is one of the tools used by G”d in the process of opening my heart/our hearts. There are still other times when I believe with as near perfect faith as I can.

When I first wrote what I wrote back in 1997, I was in a place where I was able to willingly embrace the idea that G”d could, in the very height of doubts,open our hearts. Just so happens that this year I’m in a different place. Being in that place may cloud my ability to see and feel G”d’s presence. At first I thought this might be like the person in the old joke who prayed to G”d for rescue, but who, when he complained to G”d, was reminded he overlooked the two boats and a helicopter that came to rescue him. Then I wondered if that was  a good comparison. In my present state, I would climb into the first rescue boat. I just still wouldn’t recognize it as an answer to my prayers. I wonder which is better or worse? Praying for relief and ignoring the help that comes, or praying for relief, getting it, and not seeing it for the answer it was? In some ways, they are two sides of the same coin. In one, I am blinded by my faith, in the other, I am blinded by my lack of faith.

In what I wrote in 1997, I had some of that “pray to G”d but row towards shore” attitude. reminding us to find a way to make it easier for G”d to open our hearts by starting the process ourselves. This year, I feel that way even more.

Yet something is still missing. These words from our parasha, taken out of context, might seem meant to tell us that at the very bottom of our existence, when, for our transgressions, we have been reduced to the lowest of states, then G”d will open our hearts so that we can again love G”d. That’s not the case. This is after not after the fall, but after the restoration, when the exiles have all been ingathered. We are returned to the promised land and we follow G”d’s commandments. We will prosper, and all the evil the befell us will befall our foes. The section concludes:

כִּי ׀ יָשׁוּב יְהֹוָה לָשׂוּשׂ עָלֶיךָ לְטוֹב כַּֽאֲשֶׁר־שָׂשׂ עַל־אֲבֹתֶֽיךָ: כִּי תִשְׁמַע בְּקוֹל יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לִשְׁמֹר מִצְוֹתָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו הַכְּתוּבָה בְּסֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה כִּי תָשׁוּב אֶל־יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָֽבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ:

For the L”rd will again delight in your well-being, as G”d did in that of your fathers, since you will be heeding the L”rd your G”d and keeping g”d;’s commandments and laws that are recorded in this book of the teaching—once you return to the L”rd your G”d with all your heart and soul. (Deut 30:9b-10)

Huh? Is it not a foregone conclusion that we will return to G”d with all our heart and soul? Isn’t that what is says at the beginning in 30:6?

Ah, now I see it. We’re misreading it. It doesn’t say G”d will make us love G”d. It says that G”d will open our hearts to love of Ad”nai. It’s still up to us to do the loving.

What I find most interesting is that this passage is followed by the famous “lo bashamayim hi” (Deut. 30:11-14) telling us that Torah is not in heaven, but in our mouths and hearts, and we are fully capable of understanding it. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this means it sort of becomes up to us to figure out what it means to love G”d with all our heart and soul. In the following verses were are told that G”d commands us to love G”d, and to choose life and prosperity, for if we choose the other way, there is but death and adversity. (Shades of last week’s thoughts on negative reinforcement.) We choose life by choosing to love G”d (and by following G”d’s commandments-there’s always a catch…)

So I’m not sitting around waiting for G”d to open my heart to love G”d. I’m going to do whatever it takes – acting through faith, or simply through ritual, to get to the place where I can love G”d with all my heart and soul.  Join me in the journey.

Shabbat Shalom,


© 2013 (portions © 1998) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Nitzavim 5772 - Where or When?
Nitzavim/Vayeilekh 5770 - Flawed, Schmawed
Nitzavim/Vayeilekh 5769 - Disconencting the Reconnecting the Dots
Vayeilekh_Shabbat Shuvah 5769 - Cows and Roses
Nitzavim/Vayeilekh 5766 - Keep Looking
Vayelekh 5765-The Time Is Still Now
Nitzavim 5765-To Lo Or Not To Lo
Nitzavim/Vayelekh 5763-Connect the Dots
Nitzavim 5757/5759/5764-Lo Bashamayim Hi
Nitzavim 5758-Not By Ourselves
Nitzavim/Vayelekh 5760/67-L'eyd B'vnei Yisrael-The Real Denouement
Nitzavim 5761 was the week of Sept. 11, 2001. There was no Musing.


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