Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25
Here are a few verses in this week’s Torah portion that, to me, symbolize the essential challenge of the spiritual path and perhaps, moreover, the challenge of our western civilization:
Be mindful lest you forget the Eternal One awakening within you, and fail to follow His spiritual paths, rules, and laws which I enjoin upon you today. When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered, beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the Oneness of Being that is all, which liberates you from places of constriction… Remember that it is the Eternal One that manifests through you as wealth… [Deut. 8:11-18]
This is the human paradox: we exist on multiple planes; body, mind and spirit. At the physical level our lives are bent on having our basic needs for safety and security, food and shelter, met. At the mind/ego level this basic process is transformed into a never-ending search for more comfort, pleasure, power and status. Pretty soon this material search itself becomes the major focus of our life and, like our Torah portion notes, we forget the spiritual dimension of our being. Ignoring the Divine aspect of self, the ego begins to act haughtily, believing it is the sole creator of its reality and works to manipulate that reality in an attempt to control it. Reality, however, has one essential characteristic—it changes. So the ego is forced to live an exhausting ongoing lie—that it can handle it all, that it is in control. But it can’t. And it isn’t. Looking beneath the surface we find that this lie arises from the ego’s own fear of change and impermanence seeing in both the inescapable reality of its own demise.
Our sages tell us that rather than struggling with our Yetzer HaRa—our negative traits—and trying to rid ourselves of them, we are to work on expending our Yetzer HaTov—our positive traits. As we begin our preparation for the High Holy Days, truth is the magnifying glass through which we are to look at our lives and seek to become more aware of the ways our ego is distorting reality. But we are to do it from a place of love and compassion for ourselves, without blame, anger or resentment because we understand that the ego is just acting out its own conditioning. Our purpose is to bring understanding where there is confusion, awareness where there is unconsciousness.
So what are the expectations I always bring along that prevent me from being simply present to what is? How does my needing the past to be different than it was, rob me from truly being alive today? How is my wanting my spouse, my kids, my parents, my boss to be different than they are, rob me from simply loving and appreciating them for who they are? What are the stories about who I am, that prevent me from truly growing and evolving beyond the limitations I impose on myself? Seeing truthfully the many ways our conditioned ego manifests is the first step toward liberation, for Truth (one of the many names of God) is the force “which liberates you from places of constriction.” The container in which we are to hold that newfound truth is the heart itself. It is in the heart of compassion that letting go of fear is possible. It is in the heart’s ocean of love that resistance and control are allowed to dissolve. It is in the heart of acceptance that I finally become transparent, and remember the One that I am, the One that I have always been.