Parashat Behar

Matters of the heart

Our portion opens with the teachings surrounding the Yovel year and Shmittah: how the Land ‎needs to rest from our labours and we learn that man does not live by bread alone, but by every ‎word spoken by God. It is trust and faith that bring life; the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness ‎thereof.‎

In the Haftarah, this message continues: Israel was about to be exiled and the Word of the Lord ‎came to Jeremiah telling him to buy his uncle’s field at Anatot. He knew the God of Israel would ‎bring our people back therefore investing in the Land according to Torah command was never ‎going to be an empty gesture.‎

Yet he also had doubts. We read in 32:24-25 Jeremiah’s doubt coming through. His fear ‎of the ‎situation and unpredictability of what might/could/would ‎happen ate away at him. How does God ‎respond? Verse 26-‎‎27. Is anything too hard for me? If this is true, and it is, then we ‎should throw ‎away all fear, worry, panic and stress of unbelief, ‎and instead lay hold of the truth of what God ‎says. And yet… we ‎battle with the certainties of God against the realities of our lives ‎and life in ‎general.‎

Jeremiah also records this truth: Jeremiah 17:5-9 says that the heart is deceitful above all things. ‎There is something wrong that interferes with our relationship with God: in order to trust Him and ‎be blessed, we should not trust our heart. Even Jeremiah struggled to combine faith with what ‎God was telling him: it is a heart problem. In Psalm 14:1, it says that the fool says in his HEART there ‎is no God. Not his mind. This is not a rational, thought through argument based on evidence and ‎deduction; it’s a heart thing.‎

From God’s perspective it is the heart that is the problem, not the ‎mind. Putting it at its most basic, ‎the heart needs to be ‎circumcised, the mind just renewed… The first has to undergo ‎a ‎fundamental change, the other simply needs some retraining. ‎ And if the heart has been ‎circumcised then the retraining ‎programme should be straightforward, albeit at times time-‎‎consuming!‎ Conviction of sin which comes upon us is not a rational reaction ‎to an understanding ‎given in a lecture about the definition of sin. ‎ It comes from a sense and awareness in the spiritual ‎realm ‎‎(because we ARE spiritual) of the presence of God.‎

We struggle to conceptualise this idea – the reality of this dimension in us. What is the heart? It’s a ‎nebulous concept: clearly it is not talking about the organ beating in our chest. We have a ‘heart’ ‎because God has one, we are made in His ‎image and it is from this idea that we understand what ‎the ‎‎‘heart’ is: God’s heart expresses his will, intention, emotions and ‎desire. His heart expresses ‎His nature, character and the ‎manifest expression of that. His heart motivates and drives ‎action ‎and response; it is the deepest internal dynamic of ‎existence. When we understand this, we begin ‎to understand ‎what the human heart is and also see how sad it is that our ‎hearts have become ‎corrupted and rebellious – a condition that ‎will inevitably put a strain on our spiritual hearts, our ‎essence ‎and core being.

Our hearts lead us astray and away from the Lord. That basic seat of human power and will, ‎emotion and personality MUST be circumcised if it is to actually become the home of the Spirit of ‎God who can then begin to renew and allow good to come out of it instead. And even then we ‎struggle as Jeremiah did at times. It is why the Torah must be written on our hearts, not our minds; ‎it must be internalised at the deepest levels, not just learnt at the superficial level. That is an ‎action and heart surgery that only God can do. So don’t just change your mind, lots of people do ‎that all the time; ask God to change your heart.‎