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Bridging Heaven & Earth: Ki Teitzei

Ki Teitzei: Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19


As we find ourselves entering the second half of the book of Deuteronomy, our weekly parasha/portion contains a record of individual, familial, and communal laws and mitzvot. In the passage that pertains to individual vows, we read: “Guard what comes forth through your lips.” [Deut. 23:24] In order to ensure the letter of the commandment is followed, our rabbis often generalize and thusly determine that this applies to all speech. Knowing the difficulty of fulfilling such a mitzvah, our sages devised an intense regimen of daily study, prayers and blessings that limit opportunities for idle time and casual conversation. By busying ourselves with words of Torah, praying three times a day, and always being on the lookout for an opportunity to say a blessing, the likelihood of our minds remaining steeped in spiritual matters and focused on the holy is greater.

mitzvah is an act in the world connected or flowing from our inner Divine Source. The very act of performing a mitzvah connects or re-connects us to that Source. With this understanding, the words we utter become a mitzvah when they flow from that inner Divine Heart of compassion, inclusiveness, and love. When we speak in this way, our very being becomes a connector between the Transcendent and the Manifest; we are the links between Heaven and Earth. Saying blessings over our food is a good case in point. I learned about this in my pre-teen years from my rabbi in France. I asked him why we had to say the blessing over the fruits of the trees before biting into an apple. He explained to me that the reason we say this blessing is not for ourselves, but for the apple. In the moment of consuming an apple, he continued, we are fulfilling its life-purpose. This apple was created to sustain and nourish us, and as we eat it we complete its lifecycle. The words of blessings we utter before our biting into it are, therefore, said on behalf of the apple which doesn’t have a mouth, and cannot praise and thank its Creator for the blessing of its life now made whole. It is our responsibility to say words of blessing in order to redeem the life of that apple, connecting Earth to Heaven, remembering the Many as infinite expressions of the One.

In this month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days, as we search our hearts and take stock of a year that was, we are asked to assess the many ways we have failed to guard what comes forth through [our] lips. We bring to awareness the times when we’ve become disconnected from Source, from knowing the Divine in all of Its creations, and missed the mark. This has manifested itself in us through hurtful speech, deception, unfair judgment, and scorn of self and others. But rather than fighting ourselves to change ourselves (which never works,) our tradition offers us to practice the mitzvah of Shmirat Halashon/Right Speech instead. While Right Speech includes abstaining from gossip, lies and slander, most importantly it is about engaging wholeheartedly in the practice of blessing. This simple and beautiful practice serves to support our living more consciously, and with greater intentionality. We often joke that, in Judaism, there is a blessing for everything; but kidding aside there is power in saying “Blessed One, You are That which manifests as…” in the face of all our experiences. So bless the apple, bless the roof over your head or the warmth of deep friendship. Bless the light and the darkness, the love and the fear. Bless every precious moment of awareness, l’shem Yichud, for the sake of Unification, for the sake of Connection, for making Heaven and Earth One.