In Deuteronomy (Devarim / 6:5) we are told “And love HaShem, your God, with all your heart, and with your entire being and with all your resources”* which is known by so many of us as the third line of the Shema.
The “And love” part might, at first, seem like a command. And (see below) that’s how most translations make it appear.
But if that’s so, how can we make sense out of being commanded to love?
I am not sure how, if I didn’t have a spiritual practice, I would get through the day after a dose of daily news. Even though I severely limit my time listening and reading to about an hour a day, it is sometimes enough to crush the spirit….Read more here
Responsibility, Achrayut / אחריות is one of the character traits that a person focuses on while practicing Mussar and engaging in character and spiritual development. To appreciate its nuances, we can go right to the Hebrew for clarification of what is involved in this trait.
Let’s first look at the core letters of the word, which in Hebrew, is called the root, the shoresh. By examining the word’s core meaning, we avail ourselves of the rich meaning that goes beyond a dictionary definition. The three-letter root word consists of Aleph-Chet-Resh [A-CH-R] which can mean either Achar (After) or Acher (Other). Big deal you say? Well, yes, because embedded in the very words for Responsibility are clues to help us understand the Jewish foundation for this trait / middah.
So, let’s parse this out a bit, taking each meaning separately. Let’s interpret this concept of responsibility through the lens of Achar (After). We can be responsible to others after we take care of ourselves (think oxygen mask on an airplane). A well-known phrase from Leviticus / Vayikra (19:18) tells us to וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ / V’ahavta L’rayecha Kamocha
“And you shall love your neighbor as yourself” which can be interpreted in several ways, one if which is that by loving and respecting yourself first, you will in fact be better able to care for someone else. In other words, you’ve worked on yourself enough, so you are able to love fully and therefore will be bringing (less) emotional baggage into the relationship. You are able to give fully, and love that person as a creation of God, when you, yourself, value yourself as being created in the Image of God.
Another interpretation of Achar (After) as part of responsibility is that we are entrusted with creating a better world for those who come after us. We are required to not just think of using up resources but working on replenishing them. Our task goes beyond ourselves to generations in the future.
What happens when we focus on the three-letter root word that can spell Acher (Other)? The meaning of this tells us that we need to be concerned about ‘the other’ in society. Those who are marginalized, the ones who are easily forgotten, those who are out of our daily sight yet need us to pay attention.
These are our challenges when we think of our responsibility. Do we prioritize our own needs first, as in Acharei / אחרי (After me —-which ironically is also part of the word אחריות ? Or do we concern ourselves with being activists, working on behalf of those who come Achar (After)? Do we focus on the immediate needs of the “other”, those who are mostly forgotten, as in “Acher” (The Other)? How do we juggle our responsibilities to ourselves and to others?
You already know, there is not one answer for all situations, for all times. What we’re being asked to do is bring this knowledge of responsibility, with all of its meaning to our effort to be more responsible. To be more fully human.
The sage Hillel, said it best in the most poetic way:
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
And when I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?
(Foundational Ethics / Pirkei Avot 1:14
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“Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, and let the boy drink.”
This week we will journey deeply into just a few verses of the Torah portion Vayera [וַיֵּרָ֤א meanings include: appeared/fear/awe/saw]. We will see that almost all variations of this word have interrelated and complex meanings and in the Hebrew, there are numerous words relating to ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’. As we study the text, it will prompt us to ask some pretty big questions.
In what ways do I acknowledge God as the Source? Do I see the miraculous every day, or am I blinded by my own security in the regularity of what’s around me? Is my relationship with God based on fear, awe, or a combination? Which circumstances prompt me to waiver in my knowledge of God? Continue reading here...
[I am in the midst of transitioning this blog to my new website, Inner Judasim and it is a longer process than I anticipated!]
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I am in the midst of transitioning this blog to my new website, Inner Judasim. (This is a longer process than I anticipated!). Until that occurs, I will duplicate the blog below, or you can read it here. In the meantime, if you are a subscriber here, please sign up on that site to continue receiving my posts. Thank you!
“One of the greatest religious problems is that people fear having a relationship with God and consequently distance themselves from Him.”
Sfat Emet (Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter, 1847 – 1905, who is known by this major writing).
In Genesis (B’reisheet, 12:1) God says to Abraham “Lech-Lecha” (לֶךְ־לְךָ֛), which is most often translated as “Go forth”. Technically however, the Hebrew meaning is different and contains layers of meanings that help us understand Judaism on a deeper level.
Abraham, as the first Jew, is the one who recognizes that there is the One great unifying force in the universe. He is told to leave everything he has known for a place that he knows nothing about.
The root word for Lech (לֶךְ) is where the word Halacha is derived, simply translated as “law” as in following or keeping Halacha, but in its essence it more accurately means ‘walking the walk’. Behaving as we need to.
So, on a basic level, Abraham is also told to walk, to continue on. To know that he is doing the right thing.
This has been our story as Jews. We move from place to place, sometimes willingly, sometimes under duress. We journey. We leave behind houses, belongings, tangible evidence of our memories. We move on and more forward.
When I was growing up, I often heard the term ‘wandering’ Jew, which was often used to describe the history of the Jewish people. This notion could not be more wrong. We haven’t wandered…beginning with Abraham and continuing with our leaving Egypt, we journey toward a destination. There is no mystery about what is leading us to go where we need to go. We are journeying toward wholeness, a state of completeness. This is a lifetime effort and only those who haven’t bothered to know their true calling are wandering.
The spiritual Hebrew meaning
Abraham’s journey will take him inward, the meaning of “Lech Lecha”..to go into yourself. Like Abraham, in order to make a substantial change in your life, you must leave the place you’ve been, turn inward to your inner voice, and then head out for an entirely new territory.
Doing so will allow you to be directed inwardly, but at the same time will allow you to be open to a higher Guide.
From your land
The very next words after Lech Lecha is mei’artzecha (מֵאַרְצְךָ֥) Abraham is to leave his land (artzecha, ארצך), which the commentator Abarbanel (1437 – 1508) says is one of the mitzvot that was commanded from the verse “Go forth from your land…”meaning that one’s soul leaves material things in order to fully realize the soul’s potential.
Artzecha (ארצך) is related to the word artziut…spiritually meaning your earthiness, your ties toward the material and mundane, your inclination to be rooted in the tangible.
May this Torah portion inspire you to seek your true path, to find wholeness….and to welcome HaShem as your Guide.
If a man appears against another to testify maliciously and gives false testimony against him…. [19:16].
We might infer from this usage that this tendency toward lawlessness does not have to be defined in terms that connote outright violence, but can involve intention for evil which is a more sophisticated form of wickedness.
God created us with the capacity to have free will, and in the case above, our inclinations toward either positive or negative actions are often more subtle. Should I listen to someone’s opinion who differs from mine or not? Can I put myself in another’s place or not? Should I bother to speak up or not?
We know that it can be a daily battle as to whether we behave in righteous ways or not. Sometimes the decisions we make that have the most complex repercussions are the very ones we did not think too much about.
But what do we do when society as a whole seems to be on the wrong course, headed towards evil in so many aspects? How can we bring in our own light to dissipate the darkness? What possible effect can small actions have on the greater whole?
Can Evil itself be a Source for Good?
Amazingly, there is a Kabbalistic tradition that evil itself can be a source for good. How is that so? How can evil, of the highest magnitude, flip into a positive source?
Again, how does the light pierce the darkness? This might help us understand:
“…only a broken and disordered state of affairs such as we have in the world today can provide the optimal environment within which humanity can exercise the greatest spiritual, moral, aesthetic and intellectual virtues that truly make us a reflection of God.
The discordant, unassimilated, and antagonistic effects of both our personal complexes and the evil in the universe call forth our highest potentialities. It’s similar to how a road test for a car involves being put under the most difficult conditions to push it to its edge and elicit the limits of its performance capabilities.
This world is a perfect realm for the “road testing” of our souls. Humanity’s highest virtues are called upon when confronted by evil.” [Paul Levy : “Light Hidden in the Darkness: Kabbalah and Jungian Psychology”]
So, in what ways can you add your light to the darkness? The surest chance for you to experience an uplift is to select just one thing you will do each day to bring more light into the world.
The choices can be dependent on what you personally bring to the world, with your talents and God-given skills. It might be a phone call, a song you sing to someone, doing someone a favor, giving tzedakah (righteous giving)….the list is endless.
You probably are already doing some of these wonderful things. What I’m suggesting is that you do whatever it is you decide to do with intention. Next time, catch yourself…stop before you do a mitzvahand say a b’racha (blessing), that you are able to do this very action.
Say a blessing to HaShem for giving you the gifts that enable you to bring yourself into the world in this way. Doing so will increase your connection to God, and will be your own way of bringing the light into the darkness.