4 Elul, 5775
What are you committed to?
Last night I stepped out onto the front porch just before the sun set to daven Minkha- the collection of afternoon prayers. It was such a beautiful evening- rays of pink and orange from the descending sun flickered through dancing leaves in the cool breeze.
As I sang the words with eyes closed-
“Ashrei yoshvei veitekha- joyful are those who dwell in your house…”
-I heard a harsh female voice call to me: “Excuse me, are you meditating and praying?”
“Yes,” I answered politely. I opened my eyes to see a woman standing on the sidewalk right in front of me. She over-smiled mockingly and grotesquely, then dropped the smile, revealing a sinister and angry face.
“You are engaging in rrrrepetitive prayers?” she spurted with a theatrically rolled “R”. She thrust her neck at me and circled her head with her fingers, as if to mock the kippa I was wearing.
“Do you live on this street?” I asked her.
“You mean do I live in a house?” she yelled at me, “Because I see you certainly live in a house! You sit there in your house with your nonsensical prayers, asking me where I live??”
She continued up the sidewalk in a rampage- “Look at this guy in his house! Saying his prayers and meditating!” she screamed and yelled as she continued up the street… then she was gone.
When you hear this story, what’s your impression?
I imagine people will hear this story in different ways. Some will be shocked at the woman’s behavior, while others will be moved by the problem of homelessness, and others will wonder what I did next.
The human mind understands what happens in terms of its own narratives. These narratives are not even necessarily conscious; they are mostly in the background and taken for granted as truth.
For example, what if this same scenario unfolded, except that the characters were actors in a play?
Imagine you played the guy on the porch, and your friend played the woman. When the play was over, there would be no emotional residue. It wouldn’t be real- you and your friend were just acting, so there would be no lingering emotional charge.
But when someone comes and assaults you verbally for real in the course of life, what experience might arise then?
For most of us, there would be a sense of being threatened. There may be anger, an urge to retaliate, to defend, and so on. Probably, the first reaction would not be equanimity and compassion.
I know “equanimity and compassion” were not my first impulses!
I admit, I had no feeling of compassion for her whatsoever, even though that woman may have been abused. Even though she may have had mental illness. Even though I am incredibly privileged- not just with a house, not just with friends and family who would help me out if I were to lose my house, but with a mind that is for the most part sane and capable. She was not privileged in that way.
But, though I may not be evolved enough to feel compassion for someone verbally attacking me in the moment, I am committed to compassion. I am committed to giving of my resources to help others in need, and to help my fellow beings however I can. That commitment was not changed in any way by the experience, except perhaps to strengthen it through the test.
And this is the crucial thing: not what you happen to feel in any given moment, not what you happen to think in any given moment, but rather what you choose to be committed to, regardless of your momentary, passing experience. When you know what you’re committed to, you know how to be in the moment, how to be with Reality as it is in the moment, including being with your own thoughts and feelings, without being taken over by them.
What are you committed to?
This week’s reading begins:
“Shoftim v’shotrim titein l’kha b’khol sh’arekha-
Judges and officers you should place in your gates-
asher Hashem Elokekha notein l’kha-
that your Divine nature, Existence Itself, is giving you…
v’shaftu et ha’am mishpat tzedek-
to judge the people with fairness.”
The mind has its automatic judgments, but this verse is telling us to intentionally place the judge in your gate- meaning, you choose the narrative with which to frame your experience. You choose how to use the experience you are having, and to what end. These choices are your basic commitments.
Your behaviors will also have their automatic patterns, so you need to also have officers- concrete practices to establish your commitments in your actions.
Without these two things- commitments you can verbalize and practices you can actualize- your highest intentions will be fleeting, blowing about in the winds of whatever happens to happen. And, the threat is not just from the unpleasant things that happen. Just as unpleasant things can derail you from love, peace, equanimity, gratitude and other positive midot, so also “good” things can cause complacency, laziness, and so on.
But armed with these two essential ingredients- commitment and practice- every experience, pleasant or unpleasant, becomes a helper. Than you can come to see for yourself the second part of the verse-
“…asher Hashem Elokekha notein l’kha-
that your Divine nature, Existence Itself, is giving you...”
We are, in fact, in a play after all!
Behind our roles, behind our characters, there is only One Being giving every experience, and there is only One Being receiving every experience, all for the sake of the One Being awakening to Itself.
But to what end?
“…v’shaftu et ha’am mishpat tzedek-
to judge the people with fairness.”
As long as we see ourselves, and each other, only as the outer roles we play, and not as the Divine manifestations we truly are, how can we live with wisdom and bring heaven down to earth?
But when you can receive everything and everyone in this moment as God, then you know-
this is it! This is the moment in which you bring the potential heaven down to earth or you don't. Your choice!
If you would like to learn more about how you can actualize your potential through the power of commitment and practice, stay tuned for a new learning opportunity I will be writing you about soon. More to come!
On this Shabbos Shoftim- the Shabbat of Judges- may we choose our every word and every action toward the actualization of a just, inspired and beautiful world.