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Parashat 08/03/2011

Parashat Devarim

Submitted by Robert Rabinoff

Because H” hated us he took us out of Egypt… (1:27)

He loved you, but you hated Him.  As the saying goes, whatever is in your heart regarding your fellow, that’s what is in his heart regarding you.  (Rashi)

[Rashi] explains that since they hated HaKadosh Baruch Hu, they projected what was in their hearts onto Him (Siftei Chachamim)

This statement of the people did not come right after the Exodus, when they were cornered between Pharaoh’s army and the Sea; rather it came after the miracles of the plagues of Egypt, the splitting of the Sea, and after a year spent learning Torah from Moshe Rabbeinu at Mt. Sinai.  This was a time of miraculous existence, where Gd had given them food and water, and the greatest spiritual uplift any nation has known.  Gd’s love for the people was manifest and had been manifest for a significant amount of time.  Yet the people could complain that Gd hated them.  Rashi explains that in fact the people were projecting their own consciousness onto Gd as it were – and this projection was more real to them than the objective reality that they had been experiencing for over a year!


Rashi further defines this “projection” by means of an aphorism – what you have in your heart for your fellow, that’s what is in his heart regarding you.  We have similar expressions in English – “when you point at someone else with one finger, there are three fingers pointing back at you!”  “The pot calling the kettle black.”  This kind of projection is a common psychological phenomenon.


I think there are some deeper levels of projection that we can consider.  In the case of the Israelites’ projection of their own hatred of Gd onto Gd, we have a phenomenon where our own inner state is coloring our perception of reality.  The objective reality though hasn’t changed at all – Gd still loved Israel, and, despite all our faults, continues to love us to this day, even when a majority of the Jewish people seems to have forgotten about Gd altogether.  There are cases on the other hand where we can project our emotional state onto the outside world and create a different objective reality altogether.  A simple example is found in everyday life.  If we get out of bed in the morning feeling wonderful, and give everyone we meet a smile and a kind word, we will tend to get the same reaction back from them.  The opposite is also true of course.


If we consider the nature of our inner reality we can take this conception a bit further.  When our mind is clouded or we are upset and our mind is racing, we only experience our thoughts on a superficial level.  We know that if we try to make plans in such a state, they often go awry.  Our thoughts, when they are only appreciated on a superficial level, are not very powerful and do not support objective activity very well.  On the other hand, when we are well-rested and our mind is settled, we are able to pick up thoughts at a much subtler level, where they are more powerful.  These thoughts are much more likely to get successfully projected into reality, as our plans are clearer and more comprehensive.


Thought is, in reality, a subtler form of action.  Just as action is ultimately the movement of the infinite within itself, so our individual thoughts are a movement of the infinite within itself.  If our mind has become completely identified with its infinite basis, then our thoughts can be appreciated at their deepest level, when they are just starting to manifest, or individuate from the formless infinite.  If we can think on this profound level, then the distinction between our thoughts and Gd’s thoughts begins to blur – we have made His Will our will, and Gd then makes our will His Will.  Whatever we think is perfectly in accord with Gd’s Will and therefore becomes projected into outer reality, as King Solomon says in Proverbs (19:21) Many are the thoughts in a person’s heart, but Gd’s counsel is what ultimately endures.  For “objective” reality is nothing more than a projection of Gd’s Will “outward” from Gd.


In a few days it will be Tisha B’Av, when we mourn the destruction of our Temples and our holy city and our land, may they be speedily rebuilt.  From our verse we can take heart, for just as the Israelites long ago were able to project a negative reality, we are capable of projecting a positive reality.  To borrow from the Yom Kippur liturgy, repentance, prayer and charity can help us reverse the negativity we find around us and bring us to the dawn of the Messianic Era.


Pirke Avot, Chapter 3

Mishnah 9

R. Yaakov says: One who is walking by the way in study [i.e. reviewing to himself what he has learned] and interrupts the study to exclaim “How beautiful is this tree!” or “How beautiful is this field!” is regarded by Scripture as having forfeited one’s soul.

The commentators note that there is nothing inherently wrong in admiring nature.  Nature is Gd’s creation, and by contemplating nature one can come to know Gd better.  The problem is in the prioritization.  Admiration of nature is subordinate to Torah study, because while nature may be the product of Gd’s Mind, Torah study is the way to put our individual mind directly in tune with Gd’s Mind.  The latter is the source of the former; clearly getting to the ultimate root of existence is more important than contemplating some individual projection of that level.  Indeed, it is only by connecting our soul with its own root, which is the fundamental level of life that nourishes all levels of existence, that the soul can live at all.  If we sever that connection by distracting our attention from it, we have literally forfeited our souls, for we have traded something that can nourish it eternally for something fleeting and superficial.