D’varim: What is Within Your Heart

Copyright 2012 Neal Joseph Loevinger
 
Torah Portion: D’varim./ Shabbat Chazon 
 

“You murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hates us, God took us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand[s] of the Amorites to exterminate us.’ “  (D’varimi/ Deuteronomy 1:27)

 
Good afternoon! 
 
We are starting the book of D’varim, which begins with Moshe recounting the history of the people from the Exodus till the end of the 40 years of sojourning. In the verse above, Moshe recounts how the people wailed and cried after the spies came back with a discouraging report about the Land of Israel; they said “the Lord hates us,” imagining out of their anxiety that they were brought forth to die in the desert. 
 
Rashi, as usual, has an acute insight, noting that it was not God who hated Israel, but the other way around. He quotes a folk saying to the effect that “what’s in your heart about your companion, you think he thinks about you.” Psychologists call this “projection;” the basic idea is that we deal with unwanted or unacceptable feelings within ourselves by “projecting” them onto others. 
 
In other words, the Israelites could not admit that they were scared, angry or anxious about the changes and challenges that had come so quickly since Egypt, so instead they blamed others- Moshe, Aharon, even God- for putting them in a terrible situation. This is a common response to stress and crisis, but it’s not a particularly helpful one; Judaism stresses instead the concept of “cheshbon nefesh,” or “soul-accounting,” so that we may discern what role we played in whatever befalls us. Please note: introspection is not the same as blame or self-recrimination; we assume that in messes both historical and personal, there is enough responsibility to go around. 
 
This fits in well with the prophetic message we’ve been hearing in the weeks leading up to Tisha B’Avthe sad memorial day which begins right after Shabbat. The prophets challenge the people Israel to connect their situation to their sins, but also reassure them that a covenant with the Divine will ultimately sustain them. Tisha B’Av is a time to ask: what accountability do I have for the world and its brokenness? What is within me that is broken? It’s an introspective time, in which we remember the tragedies of our people but also seek to understand our own role in healing the world. That can only happen with self-knowledge and appropriate humility, so we do not hate others for what we have not healed within ourselves. 
 
Shabbat Shalom, 
 
RNJL 

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