"Be Wholehearted”… breathe and just be

I was startled this week when someone called it "late summer"... even though I know in my brain that we've entered into the months of August and Elul already, even though I can already feel that sunset is coming earlier and earlier, even though I can feel the High Holidays and back-to-school season looming. This summer has felt like a respite tucked between pandemic peaks. For me, the warmer and drier days have translated into more outdoor time, often in community, sometimes even unmasked. It's no wonder I want to soak it all in, and no wonder I'm not feeling ready to let go of this summer... and yet, my mind is constantly racing onto what's next.

I was startled this week when someone called it "late summer"... even though I know in my brain that we've entered into the months of August and Elul already, even though I can already feel that sunset is coming earlier and earlier, even though I can feel the High Holidays and back-to-school season looming. This summer has felt like a respite tucked between pandemic peaks. For me, the warmer and drier days have translated into more outdoor time, often in community, sometimes even unmasked. It's no wonder I want to soak it all in, and no wonder I'm not feeling ready to let go of this summer... and yet, my mind is constantly racing onto what's next.

This week's Torah portion, Parashat Shoftim, is chock full of wisdom. Most of it pertains to justice and feels eternally true. There are laws that prohibit judging unfairly or taking bribes; warnings that two witnesses are better than one, or that rulers can easily become corrupted by their own power; cautions that soothsayers and diviners are not to be trusted; commandments anticipating the cities of refuge that the Israelites will need to build when they enter into the Promised Land, and the fruit trees that are not to be cut down then. (Click here if you'd like to skim through the whole parasha.)

Embedded in this long list of guidelines and rules, warnings and visions, one verse jumped out at me this week as feeling particularly timely and relevant to this moment of "late summer" and the lead-up to the High Holidays. Deuteronomy 18:13 reads:

תָּמִ֣ים תִּֽהְיֶ֔ה עִ֖ם יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃

You must be wholehearted with the LORD your God.

What does it really mean to be "tamim" (alternately translated "perfect," "wholehearted," or "blameless")? How can we aspire to achieve this sense of fullness and completion?

Rashi, the great medieval French commentator, interprets this verse in a way that I find incredibly beautiful. He says that when the Torah says "tamim tihyeh im adonai elohecha," it is really teaching the following:

"Walk before God whole-heartedly, put thy hope in God and do not attempt to investigate the future, but whatever it may be that comes upon thee accept it whole-heartedly, and then thou shalt be with God and become God's portion."

Did you catch that? Rashi says the meaning of this verse is that we should not attempt to investigate the future, but rather try to accept the present wholeheartedly. This, he explains, is the key to living with God.

What Rashi describes sounds an awful lot like what we might today call a mindfulness practice... pretty amazing for an 11th century rabbi!

This week, I have really tried to take the verse to heart, being present in the moment in the way that Rashi describes. However, I often find that my brain keeps racing ahead of me... wondering what the Delta variant will mean for my kids' schools, trying to evaluate decisions about personal travel and about Kavana programs, worrying about what the coming weeks and months will bring.

On Tuesday evening, I sat on the banks of Lake Sammamish together with Chava Mirel and our monthly Singing Circle group, and tried to quiet my brain's "investigating of the future." Trying to be wholehearted in the way that Rashi describes is hard work for me -- indeed, a spiritual practice. In the moments when I manage to tamp down the urge to investigate the future, though, I find that I really do notice different things in the present. I take in the deep blue shade of the summer sky; a bald eagle soaring overhead; plump juicy blackberries on the vine; the child snuggled on my lap; a tiny sliver of moon setting in the west. For a brief time, I really do feel wholehearted and complete.

I know, from conversations and email exchanges with so many of you, that I am not alone in thinking a lot about the future and holding onto significant  anxiety around what it will bring. This pandemic moment feels like an especially anxious time to be living through, but it's also true that human beings always have a tendency to want to look ahead; this was as true for Moses's ancient Israelite audience and for Rashi in the 11th century as it is for us today.

This week, I invite you all to join me in hearing the call of just a single verse from Parashat Shoftim. It tugs on us to breathe and just be, right here, right now. This may be the best tool we have to be with God (that is, to live in accordance with being), to feel wholehearted and complete, and to make the most of summer... and every day.

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum