Seeing is Believing: Tazria 5784

Seeing is Believing: Tazria 5784

One of my favorite parts of Shabbat is reading the New Yorker. It’s the only time during the week I can sit for an hour or two and just read, uninterrupted by demands of work or family. And as I told my eldest son recently, while college certainly helped with my own writing, it was in reading the New Yorker that I really learned how to write. So I find those Shabbat mornings when I’m sitting at the kitchen table, sipping my coffee, reading Adam Gopnik or Jill Lapore or David Remnick, to be both immensely pleasurable and, still, highly instructive.

There was an article in last week’s issue by Leslie Jamison about gaslighting, the psychological phenomenon in which one person (usually a parent or a spouse) profoundly undermines not only the reality of another, but, crucially, a person’s belief in what their own senses tell them is true. As Jamison notes, the term comes from a 1944 film, “Gaslight,” in which a husband goes up to the attic every night to search for a set of lost jewels that belongs to his wife–in an attempt to steal them. As he does so, he turns on the gas light, which causes the other gas lights in the house to flicker. When Paula, the wife, asks him about it, he convinces her she didn’t see anything. That firm denial steadily causes Paula’s entire reality to wobble: If she can’t trust her own eyes, what can she trust?

Jamison’s piece explores how the term has exploded in usage over the last decade or so. (In 2022 it was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year.) For many people, discovering the term is a revelation, as it enables them to recognize the ways that authority figures have manipulated, abused, or injured them. Yet Jamison also notes that the phenomenon is not necessarily such a rare thing, but might, in fact, be a more common part of all of our lives. As she talks to an expert, she realizes that every time she tells her young daughter that she is ‘just fine’ when she obviously is not, or when she blames her daughter for making them late getting out the door in the morning when, in fact, it’s her own fault for not getting them moving sooner, she might be committing her own, milder but still real, acts of gaslighting. To which the expert responds, “Yes! Within a two-block range of any elementary school, just before the bell rings, you can find countless parents gaslighting their children, off-loading their anxiety.”

One way to read Parashat Tazria (Leviticus 12-13) is as a reflection on epistemology, or how we apprehend reality. The bulk of the Torah portion is devoted to a kind of medical manual for the ancient priests, who were charged with looking at skin infections to determine what they were and what kind of treatment they required. Within chapter 13 alone, the word “see” (r-a-h in Hebrew) is present in almost every verse, nearly 40 times. The priest is charged with looking, investigating, forming a judgment, and ultimately pronouncing reality based on the color of the lesion, the presence or absence of hair, the spread, etc. And what the priest says becomes the shared truth of the patient and the community.

This is not a narrative portion of the Torah (in fact it’s about as Levitical as Leviticus gets), and we don’t hear anything about the experience of the patient, their loved ones, or the priest. But we can try to imagine what it might have been like to wake up one day and discover something off or strange in our body–on one level or another, I expect every human being has experienced that–and what happens next in our minds and hearts. “Huh, what is this? Is it something terrible, or is it benign? Should I go to the doctor right away, or maybe I can wait a week and see what happens?”

I certainly have had such moments, and I expect you have too. Within them, we can feel anxiety as not only our reality shifts, but our confidence in our apprehension of reality is also challenged: “Did I really see what I think I saw? Did I gaslight myself? Maybe I didn’t. Maybe it’s even worse? Maybe I should have known this thing was coming weeks ago. Maybe I’m a bad person!” Commence downward spiral.

This isn’t limited to bodily maladies; it applies to virtually everything in life–which I believe is part of the larger point of this Torah portion. The character of the priest here reminds me of no one so much as Adam, the image of God, in the opening chapter of Genesis (another chapter in which seeing is a motif): looking, investigating, forming judgments, giving names and labels. That process is one we do all the time; it’s foundational to how we interact with the world. And precisely because it’s so fundamental, gaslighting–and the larger destabilization of our reality that feels like a growing phenomenon in our political and media life–is particularly resonant.

In my view, Judaism properly understood is a mindfulness practice. The priest’s responsibility is, in fact, the charge and invitation to each and every one of us: to look, to investigate, and to make wise and mindful judgments. As the priest in Tazria reminds us, that process involves study and acquiring knowledge–and it involves giving ourselves the time and space to see clearly and honestly. So often today I find myself pressed to make a snap judgment. Yet through our practice we can access that other great gift of the opening chapter of Genesis, the expansiveness of Shabbat. Through that, we can create the time we need and deserve to examine reality more closely, perceive more clearly, and judge more wisely.

Josh’s Friday Reflections
FREE

Every Friday morning, IJS President & CEO Rabbi Josh Feigelson shares a short reflection on the week in preparation for Shabbat. Josh weaves together personal experience, mindfulness practice, and teachings from the weekly Torah portion in a uniquely accessible and powerful way. Sign up to receive Josh’s weekly reflections here.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Home is Where the Heart Is: Shemini 5784

Home is Where the Heart Is: Shemini 5784

Nearly twenty years ago my family and I moved to Evanston, Illinois. I had just been ordained a month earlier, our son Micah had just been born two weeks prior, and we moved into an empty condo apartment two blocks from the Northwestern University Hillel, where I had taken a job as the campus rabbi. Natalie and I had rented apartments in New York up until then, and this was the first place we owned.

I remember that the confluence of all these changes made it feel different, like we had arrived at this new, officially more grown up stage of life. That was especially true on our first Shabbat. Up until then, we had always eaten on a small Ikea table and sat on folding chairs. But here was a big new walnut dining room table and eight chairs, one we had paid good money for and that would be with us for a long time (it still is). I remember feeling overwhelmed as I sat there and took it in. For the first time, I really felt like we were truly, deeply at home.

In our preparations for Passover (and, perhaps, our aversion to the less narrative-driven nature of Leviticus), we can miss the fact that Parashat Shemini marks the moment when the Divine and the Israelites are, for the first time, sitting at their dining room table together–truly, deeply at home. After weeks and weeks of reading about the construction of the Mishkan in the latter half of Exodus, and then more Torah portions devoted to instructions about the sacrifices at the beginning of Leviticus, the opening chapter of Shemini marks the moment when it all finally comes together. The Mishkan is set up, the priests are consecrated and purified, they perform the required offerings, Moses and Aaron bless the people, and finally the presence of God appears, “and all the people saw, and shouted joyously, and fell on their faces” (Lev. 9:24) God is at home in the world.
But, of course, that moment is fleeting. In the very next verse it all goes terribly, horribly wrong. Aaron’s older sons, Nadav and Avihu, offer a “strange fire” and are killed by a fire that flares forth from the Ineffable. What was a moment of deep, profound presence and at-homeness becomes a moment of absence and death.

The midrash offers many explanations as to what Nadav and Avihu did that brought about this moment of profound rupture. Many of them imagine that, unlike their father and uncle, they became arrogant: they thought themselves too good for any of the available spouses among the people; or, perhaps, they looked forward to the day when Moses and Aaron would die and they would be the leaders of the people; or, maybe, they tried to directly perceive the Divine presence in a way that even Moses did not (Vayikra Rabba 20:10).

On a more intimate level, what all of these attempted explanations share, perhaps, is a fundamental discomfort with, or inability to inhabit, the reality of the present moment–an inability to be at home driven by a desire for, perhaps, even more at-homeness. Where Moses and Aaron were humble, Nadav and Avihu were arrogant. Where Moses and Aaron recognized the limitations inherent in human life–even in a human life that’s at a stage of advanced spiritual development–Nadav and Avihu were unable to do so. They couldn’t accept that being truly, deeply at home is not about having it all, but about living within the realities and limitations of human existence. That’s one reading, anyway.

I think it’s an important reading, one which reflects a profound tension at the heart of Torah: How do we experience being truly, deeply at home? From the Garden of Eden to the exile of the Children of Israel in Egypt to the fact that Moses dies, and the Torah ends, before the people make it into the promised land, the Torah conveys a deep ambivalence about the idea of being at home. Even as he imagines the people finally making it across the Jordan River, Moses reminds them not to get too comfortable and forget how they got there (Deut. 6:10-12). We are meant, it seems, to hold our at-homeness lightly.

Or, perhaps, to recognize that deep at-homeness–what I believe is our human spiritual capacity–lies as much in our ability to inhabit whatever moment and reality we are in fully and mindfully as it does in the particular places we might think of as home. That kind of balance, a holding or apprehending of reality that is neither too firm nor too weak but just right, is what we seek to cultivate through our practices. While our innate emotional drives seek to preserve home as we know it at all costs, our practices can help us create some reflective distance from those drives so that we can respond mindfully, wisely, and ethically–and so that the Divine can be made manifest, at home in the world.

Josh’s Friday Reflections
FREE

Every Friday morning, IJS President & CEO Rabbi Josh Feigelson shares a short reflection on the week in preparation for Shabbat. Josh weaves together personal experience, mindfulness practice, and teachings from the weekly Torah portion in a uniquely accessible and powerful way. Sign up to receive Josh’s weekly reflections here.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Mitzvah Means Connection: Tzav 5784

Mitzvah Means Connection: Tzav 5784

The other day I listened to a talk by one of my favorite teachers of mindfulness, Gil Fronsdal, about the war in Israel and Gaza. I listen to Gil’s meditations and short talks several times a week. I’m drawn to the clarity, simplicity, and depth of his teaching. I find that practicing with him early in the morning, or while I’m walking the dog, is helpful.

Like his previous talk on the war last fall, in this talk I was impressed and gratified to hear Gil acknowledge and embrace the humanity of everyone who has suffered, is suffering, and continues to suffer because of it: Israelis, Palestinians, and all of us who care about and are connected to them. There were, predictably, some things I might have phrased differently, or some places I found myself disagreeing. But on the whole, I found it good and helpful.

Towards the end of the talk, Gil said something that has stuck with me. I’ll paraphrase: A lot of people approach me with demands–to sign this or that, to condemn this group or that group, to “stand with” these people and “stand against” those. And Gil said (quoting now): “I don’t operate that way.” He didn’t say this with an edge, but just matter of fact. Instead, he said, he responds to requests, invitations. Demands just won’t work.

I’ve been lingering on that line for a couple of weeks. On one level, it reflects a commonplace among meditation teachers (imagine me speaking in meditation teacher voice now): “And now, if it’s comfortable for you, the invitation is to… gently close your eyes” or “allow your awareness to settle on the breath” or whatever the next part of the practice is.

This is actually such a common expression that we joke about it sometimes at work. It’s foundational to mindfulness practice, the notion that we are all free to enter and leave the practice as we like. We are here not because anyone is forcing us, but because we have decided to be here and do this in this moment–and we can decide in the next moment not to. We have free will, and no one can take that away from us. Thus we shouldn’t presuppose that we or anyone else is bound to do anything. And so, no demands–only invitations and requests.

This is one of the places where Judaism as a mindfulness practice can get complicated. Why? Because at the heart of a life of Torah is the concept and experience of mitzvot, traditionally translated as commandments. Biblical and Rabbinic teaching is suffused with the idea that the Divine commands or demands of us to obey these rules–and will reward us for doing so and punish us for acting otherwise.

This approach works for some people, but it doesn’t work for others. For me, this orientation was particularly useful as a young person, as my fear of being judged–by others, by what I understood God to be, by my own conscience–helped push me into study and behaviors that created a groove in my heart and mind: Shabbat, kashrut, praying, hours and hours learning Hebrew, Aramaic, and our people’s extraordinary textual tradition. I felt good about how I was spending my time because I felt I was living in alignment with what I understood that God commanded me to do.

But at a certain point, that stopped working so well for me. I found something missing in my inner life, as though I were performing a set of roles rather than genuinely living in a way that integrated my outer actions with inner sensations. And that led me, over many years, to studying Hasidut, experimenting with new forms of prayer, and eventually to IJS’s Clergy Leadership Program (applications are open for our next cohort–please share with rabbis and cantors you love!) and into the practice I engage in, teach, and help develop today.

I bring all this up because the name of this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, invites us to reflect on this question of the meaning of mitzvah (tzav is a verb form of the noun, mitzvah). Rashi, citing the midrash, observes that tzav connotes zerizut, alacrity, as if God is saying, “Perform this commandment right away–bring energy to it, don’t dilly dally.” That fits well within a framework of externalized motivation: Get this done quickly so that you can earn the reward (and avoid the punishment). A mitzvah, in this context, continues to be (or at least seems to be) a behavior that a Higher Power commands us to do, backed up by overwhelming force.

But there are other ways to understand mitzvah. The Hasidic masters, drawing on the Zohar, routinely play up the aspect of mitzvah as connection, e.g. mitzvot are the means by which “The Ineffable [expresses] desire that we connect, embrace the Divine, through holiness” (Sefat Emet Bo 1874–there are many more examples). This framework does not necessitate jettisoning the notion of mitzvah as duty or obligation. But, for me anyway, it has the effect of wrapping that heavy notion of commandedness in a softer envelope of love (or, perhaps, the harsher approach is the package, and the love is the soft center; or, really truly, neither is inside or outside–they’re both deeply intertwined). As I’ve continued on my own spiritual and religious journey, that has been profoundly important and helpful.

This approach can get tricky for me, though, if it leads me to experience mitzvot as entirely voluntary. I’m not willing to say that everything is an invitation, because I believe that I, and we, have moral, ethical, and spiritual duties and responsibilities. I can’t, with a straight face, understand Torah, halakha, and Judaism as simply a response to a series of invitations; it is also a response to a set of demands.

Yet I think Gil Fronsdal is right: Demands are not always, or perhaps even often, effective. Why? Because so many of us experience our lives as a set of choices we make, grounded in freedom of thought and action. So the notion that God or a politician or an activist on social media demands of me that I espouse this position or take that action–can be experienced as a categorical error: Who gives you the right to tell me what to think or do? It would be far more effective to engage in a good faith conversation and enable both of us to speak, listen, and make up our minds.

This is an experience I think a lot of folks have run into vis a vis mitzvot and Judaism. Yet if we can ground simultaneously in an understanding of mitzvah as both commandment and connection (imagine popularizing the phrase, “Mitzvah means connection!”), I think we can open up a rich and deep relationship with Torah, Jewish life, and the Holy Blessed One. That is what I’m trying to do in my own life, and it’s what we try to do at IJS all the time. If you’re not already on that journey, I hope you’ll consider joining us (no, actually–I’m demanding that you join us; just kidding.)

Josh’s Friday Reflections
FREE

Every Friday morning, IJS President & CEO Rabbi Josh Feigelson shares a short reflection on the week in preparation for Shabbat. Josh weaves together personal experience, mindfulness practice, and teachings from the weekly Torah portion in a uniquely accessible and powerful way. Sign up to receive Josh’s weekly reflections here.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Mitzvah Means Connection: Tzav 5784

Purim 5784: Quit Rage

When my son Toby was seven or eight years old, we watched the Revenge of the Sith, the third of the Star Wars “prequel” movies—the one that tells the story of how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader (spoiler alert, I guess—but, really?). In the climactic scene, as Anakin is about to battle his master Obi-Wan Kenobi, his eyes are yellow with rage. He has been overtaken by anger. He shouts at Obi-Wan, “I hate you!” At this, Toby turned to me and said—in the way that only a sweet 8-year old who goes to a school with a strong social-emotional curriculum can—”Ooh, hate is such a strong word!”

It may sound trite to say, but I think it’s actually remarkable that, in my 47 years, I have been blessed not to experience hateful rage very much. The vast, vast majority of my experiences have been characterized by emotions and states that are peaceful, nonviolent, and even loving. But perhaps because of that, I can vividly remember the moments when rage has been present—both the rage of others that I’ve witnessed and rage that has arisen in me and caused me to lose control. In the former case, they are generally moments that have caused pain in me even through the mere fact of observing them; in the latter, they are, uniformly, the moments in my life I most regret.

We think of Purim as a happy holiday, filled with costumes and yummy things to eat. But the truth is, at the beating heart of this holiday is a story of rage, hatred, fear, generally poor emotional regulation, and the consequences those strong negative emotions can have when channeled into violent, state-sanctioned power.

The word heima, rage, forms a throughline of the Purim story. It appears six times in Esther: When the king becomes angry that Vashti won’t come (1:12) and when that rage finally subsides (2:1); when Haman sees that Mordechai won’t bow to him (3:5 and again at 5:9); when Esther reveals Haman is out to destroy her and her people (7:7) and when his rage subsides after Haman is hanged (7:10). In each of these cases, a powerful man experiences something that upsets him—something that seems to undermine his sense of control and self-worth, perhaps—and he is unable to control his anger. There is something childlike and petulant about these incidents, something reminiscent of that young Anakin Skywalker who can’t manage the strong sensations of pride, feeling wronged and unloved (and, in Anakin’s case, probably abandoned as well).

And like Anakin Skywalker, in each case in Esther, the powerful man, whether Achashverosh or Haman, flies off the handle into a literally murderous rage and then codifies that rage into state-sanctioned violence: killing the queen (and then, grotesquely, effectively kidnapping and imprisoning the young women of the empire until he found the one who most pleased him—all under cover of law); ordering a massive, state-authorized pogrom on the Jews and constructing a state-authorized gallows for Mordechai; killing Haman by the lawful order of the king. In case my point isn’t already clear: this is not a children’s story.

Instead, I think it is at least in part a story that comes to help us reflect on questions about rage and power (and gender: see Rabbi Jericho Vincent’s incredible new rendering of the Megillah for more). Such questions are, of course, always present, whether we are aware of them or not, whether we like to acknowledge them or not. One of our key developmental tasks in childhood and adolescence is learning how to modulate the strong negative feelings we can experience that might impel us toward anger, rage, and violence, and instead make calmer, wiser, more peaceful choices. And the Megillah is even astute enough to layer in the ways in which the experience or threat of violence can itself have traumatic impacts on a collective group, which can then lead to their own imagined or enacted revenge fantasies (this is the story of chapter 8).

Jewish mindfulness practice is all about disrupting this escalator of reactivity and instead increasing the space between stimulus and response. It is about cultivating da’at, attentive awareness, as evidenced in the pivotal line Mordechai writes to Esther: mi yodeah im la’et kazot higaat lamalchut, who knows—who has da’at, is mindfully aware—but perhaps it was precisely for this moment that you attained the throne!

Esther, of course, is the character who has the most to fear—”if I perish, I perish.” Through what I take to be a practice of mindfulness—what is she doing for those three days of fasting and praying if not creating more space between stimulus and response?—she overcomes that fear to make an enormously courageous, history-altering choice. Unlike her husband the king, she does not seek to dull her pain through drinking, partying, and carousing. Unlike Haman, she is not so conceited that she can only think of herself. As her name implies, she is, perhaps, concealed even from herself, but she ultimately emerges as an exemplar of mindful self-awareness that grounds her courageous speech and action.

This Purim, when so many of us are living with fear and trauma; when our media ecosystem thrives on prompting our most reactive behaviors; when too many are acting in ways that seem anything but mindful, wise, or courageous—may we renew our commitment to our spiritual practice for the sake of reducing suffering, healing pain, and fostering peace.

Josh’s Friday Reflections
FREE

Every Friday morning, IJS President & CEO Rabbi Josh Feigelson shares a short reflection on the week in preparation for Shabbat. Josh weaves together personal experience, mindfulness practice, and teachings from the weekly Torah portion in a uniquely accessible and powerful way. Sign up to receive Josh’s weekly reflections here.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
That’s What Friends Are For: Pekudei 5784

That’s What Friends Are For: Pekudei 5784

One of the main reasons Natalie and I moved to Skokie eleven years ago was so that our children would have other kids to play with on Shabbat afternoon. We had previously lived in Evanston, which had a wonderful but very small shomer Shabbat community. There were basically the same few kids, and no one else at our children’s grade levels. When Toby came along, we realized we wanted a different experience and moved three miles west.

At this point, Toby is old enough that most Shabbat mornings he finds me at shul to tell me that he’s hanging out with his friends and classmates all afternoon and he’ll be back in time for havdallah. Which is exactly what we wanted. Like his older brothers, he has a group of friends his age who can spend time and play with one another. Normal, healthy developmental stuff–and a good validation of our decision back in the day.

Yet as you no doubt know, friendships and childhoods that look like this are becoming rarer. Teens are spending less time hanging out with their friends–a trend facilitated by social media and accelerated by the pandemic. The same is happening with adults, as the Surgeon General discussed in a recent report on the epidemic of disconnection and loneliness affecting the country–an epidemic that has profound consequences for our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.

We’re wrapping up the Torah portions that recount the building of the Mishkan. One of the sometimes overlooked features of this story is the role of friendship, specifically that between Bezalel and Ohaliav, the two master builders. Now, you may actually be scratching your head: “Betzalel–him I’ve heard of. Who is the Ohaliav character?” He was Bezalel’s chief helper–or, as my own friend and rabbi, Ari Hart, pointed out recently, his buddy. These were two friends–really, two of the only friends (not blood relations) that we see in the Torah. They shared in the work together, inspired one another, dreamed, thought, created, and labored with each other. They were friends.

It makes sense to me that the Torah would choose to highlight two friends at the center of the creation of the Mishkan, as the word for friend, chaver, is related to a word the Torah itself uses to describe putting together the Mishkan, l’chaber. Like the Mishkan or the clothing of the high priest, a healthy friendship reflects the interconnection between distinct individual parts within a larger whole. Each part is unique and important, and each also contributes to the total project, the greater communion of the friendship.

Rava, one of the great rabbis of the Talmud, quoted a folk saying: O havruta o mituta. Literally translated, the phrase means, “friendship or death.” I think a perhaps more accurate rendering might be, “Friendship is the essence of life.” Why? Perhaps because, unlike familial ties or contractual responsibilities, a friendship is a relationship characterized by freedom. We choose our friends. And because of that, a friendship is its own, particularly special, kind of love–freely chosen, much like the freely-given offerings that provided the raw materials for the Mishkan.

Jewish spiritual practice can often be thought of as something we do on our own–meditating or journaling or praying. And yes, much of our work is internal, taking place in zones to which only we have access and that cannot really be shared with others. But/And: so much of our spiritual labor can only, frankly should, be done in the company of friends–spiritual friends, friends with whom we can practice, friends to whom we can open our hearts, friends who are, in the truest sense of the word, a havruta. May we all merit to develop, maintain, and grow such friendships.

Josh’s Friday Reflections
FREE

Every Friday morning, IJS President & CEO Rabbi Josh Feigelson shares a short reflection on the week in preparation for Shabbat. Josh weaves together personal experience, mindfulness practice, and teachings from the weekly Torah portion in a uniquely accessible and powerful way. Sign up to receive Josh’s weekly reflections here.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Enough is Enough: Vayakhel 5784

Enough is Enough: Vayakhel 5784

I travel frequently for work. My checklist of things to do before I leave home includes not only packing undershirts and a toothbrush, but also emptying the compost bin that sits next to our sink. I seem to be the member of my family who can stand the smell the easiest. So before I get in the taxi to the airport, I dump the compost into the larger bin outside.

I therefore think about the compost with some regularity. On the one hand, I feel good about it: We’re diverting waste from the landfill; we get soil back in the spring; we’re contributing to a larger movement. On the other hand, there’s a little perversion that creeps in when I clean out the fridge: “Ooh, that lettuce I bought last week that didn’t get eaten–awesome, it can go in the compost!” But, of course, it would have been better to either eat the lettuce or not buy it in the first place.

The existence of the compost bin can thus provide a subconscious crutch for overconsumption. While it mitigates some problems, it doesn’t address the basic questions of desire and sufficiency operating in my mind and heart when I’m at the grocery store or standing in front of the fridge thinking about what I want to eat. Those questions are still mine to work through.

These issues are on my mind this week because at the heart of Parashat Vayakhel is a story about sufficiency and saying, “Enough.” Making good on the Holy One’s invitation for everyone whose heart is moved to contribute to the construction of the Mishkan, Moses invites the Israelites to do just that. But not only do they bring–they keep on bringing, to the point that the craftsmen come to Moses to tell him they’re being overwhelmed.
“Moses thereupon had this proclamation made throughout the camp:
‘Not a single man or woman should make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary!’ So the people stopped bringing: their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done.” (Ex. 36:6-7)

In his Mei Hashiloach, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner interprets this passage spiritually: “In truth, one does not know the root of their heart—if they are truly giving. The test of this is, if one is asked one time to donate for a new mitzvah, then they can give abundantly, but after they have grown accustomed to this mitzvah they then close their hand from giving. From this it is understood that they are not giving from their roots, for if it came out of their roots they would not refrain from giving.” In the case of the Mishkan, the rebbe says, the Israelites kept giving again and again, manifesting that they were truly giving from the roots of their hearts. Hence these verses should be read as praising them.

Now, this would be a good place for me to make a fundraising pitch. (Sure: If your heart is moved, please do donate to IJS!) But/And: I think the larger point is one about the spiritual practice of discerning and knowing our hearts–in our giving, our consuming, our making, our selling. The Torah invites us to consider that, just as there is an economy that exists between the grocery store and the compost bin (or the trash can), there is likewise an economy within our hearts–impulses, either genuine or manufactured through advertising, of need, desire, and craving; stirrings of generosity, openness, and sufficiency.

In an age characterized by consumerism, impulse purchasing, and life-threatening levels of waste, mindfulness practices are more important than ever. They enable us to walk through the grocery store–or Amazon–with stronger, wiser hearts that are less susceptible to the manipulation of desire. And in an age characterized by isolation, division, and epidemic levels of loneliness, our practices likewise help us to cultivate connection, compassion, and resilience. These are two sides of the same coin, two parts of the economy of the heart that, with practice and dedication, can become the economy of the world too.

Josh’s Friday Reflections
FREE

Every Friday morning, IJS President & CEO Rabbi Josh Feigelson shares a short reflection on the week in preparation for Shabbat. Josh weaves together personal experience, mindfulness practice, and teachings from the weekly Torah portion in a uniquely accessible and powerful way. Sign up to receive Josh’s weekly reflections here.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.