Va-Et’chanan
Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

The Blueprint of a Spiritual Journey

This week’s Torah portion is awash in an abundance of themes. It includes Moses’ plea to God to upend His death sentence so that he, too, may enter the Promised Land. It speaks of the three “cities of refuge” to protect those who commit involuntary manslaughter. It has the Ten Commandments; and both the Sh’ma and the V’ahavta. Yet despite all this, I found myself attracted to an often overlooked passage right in the middle of the portion, and it occurred to me that this passage is a compelling blueprint of a person’s spiritual journey:

But if you seek YHVH your God from there, you will find Him; if only you seek with all your heart and with all your being. When you are in distress because of all the things that have befallen you; in the end, return to YHVH and hearken to His voice. For YHVH your God is a God of compassion… You have but to inquire of earlier days… You yourself have been made-to-see and know that YHVH is God, nothing else is but the One. [Deut. 4:29-35]

YHVH is the unpronounceable name of God; the aspect of being that transcends all Creation, the Nothingness out of and within which everything arises. It is that being-ness that no words can depict, yet attempt to point to it by describing it as the ever-watching Presence in the background of experience. It is the “I Am” that I am, that I have always been, that wants nothing, desires nothing; is simply with what is, just as it is, letting everything arise, effortlessly aware. It is the Source of Being, of our being; and that first phrase “…if you seek YHVH… you will find Him,” is calling upon us to seek that Source. But, this seeking, this inner inquiry, the text cautions, cannot be done half-heartedly. Rather, it is a whole-being search that is asked of us, an investigation that is all-consuming. And Torah holds a promise to us; that if we engage whole-heartedly in our practice, we “will find Him,” we are bound to awaken to the Truth of Who we are.

Along the path, our quote continues, as we make progress in our inquiry, “the things that have befallen” us in the past will naturally and predictably come up to be investigated. This is a common experience to long-term meditators. At first, these “things” will likely cause “distress,” as they are often part of our repressed shadow bubbling up in awareness. But awareness itself is healing; and we need only to “return to YHVH” time and again, to stand as Awareness time and again, to come back to practicing being this ever-watching Presence, untouched, unmoved, attached to no arising thought or emotion. Such Awareness is healing because it holds even our darkest shadow with infinite compassion. Once this first layer is dissolved we “have to inquire of earlier days” yet; to continue our inquiry into deeper and deeper layers of the self until all layers have dissolved and all that is left is the pure radiance of the One that we are. For–and this is one of the most incredible spiritual statements in Torah–each one of us has, built in, the potential for awakening; we “have been made-to-see and know that YHVH is God” that the Transcendent One is God: the Energy that is and which animates all Creation. This is our birthright, this is our inheritance!

The fact that these powerful verses are generally omitted is a metaphor for our life. We are masters of distraction. Our minds thrive in the busy-ness of the next big thing clamoring for our attention, needing our time and efforts. We crave the thrill of the next big experience and we miss the blessings in the little moments. But, right there, in the middle of it all can lie the most significant teaching. Right there at the center, the silence that reveals what the noise is masking can be found. Torah is calling us to turn back to that center, to turn inward; reminding us that the most potent wisdom comes from the still small voice within.