Thursday, August 2, 2012

It Can All Count - Parshat Va'etchanan

It has been an exciting week in the world of Jewish learning.  The first volume of the new edition of the Talmud by Koren Publications with commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz is on bookshelves now (and if you don't know what those are, an iPad app is soon to be released,  And this is just in time, because this week is also the start of a new seven year cycle of the study of one page of Talmud a day called the Daf Yomi.  

The first volume of the Talmud is Berachot, Blessings.  It begins with a discussion of the rules for reciting the Shema prayer.  In yet another convenient coming together of things on the Jewish calendar, this week's Torah Portion, Va'etchanan includes the Shema.

The Shema, in which we declare our belief in the unity of God, and in its following paragraphs we speak of how we will make our actions reflect our belief in God, is the quintessential Jewish prayer, precisely because it sets up that connection - that what we feel in our hearts must guide our hands.  That the spirit as well as the body equally serve God.

And what is even more compelling is something we learn in a comment about one line of this prayer.  We famously pray that we will love God with "all our heart".  One understanding of this (which Daf Yomi students should get to in about two months as it is on Berachot page 61b) is that we must serve God with both our evil or selfish inclination (yetzer ha-ra) as well as with our good or giving inclination (yetzer ha-tov).

I take this to mean that for us as Jews, what is more important, what is most important, is not so much judging if something is bad or something is good, or judging if everything about me is so great or not, but whether or not we can put it to use in the service of God.  If we can find in it some spark of the Holy.  

Bad things happen to you?  They may not, as I hate to hear people say, have happened "for a reason" but that doesn't mean you still can't find meaning or inspiration in them.  Are there bad things about you?  Turn those traits towards God's ends.  Feel stressed out and anxious all the time?  Let that be what motivates you to say your daily prayers.  It can be meditative, and it's what God wants of you.  And the list of course goes on.

So take some of the pressure off yourself.  Don't worry that not everything in your life is great.  And don't worry if everything about you is great - worry about how you can take all of it, and put to God's uses.

Shabbat Shalom,

Aaron Benson

No comments:

Post a Comment