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.
Parashat Behar/Bechukotai (On the Mount/In My Statutes)