D’var Torah, Parshat Va’era 5774
There’s a saying in Israel, “sim lev.” You see it over open man-hole covers and at construction sites or bad places in the road, where we in America would have a big old “CAUTION” sign. It means, literally, “put your heart into it.” I love that. Not just “Watch out!” or even “take care” but really put your heart into paying attention.
In this week’s Torah portion, Va’era, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart; in some places, Pharaoh hardens his own heart but either way, his heart is HARD. He is stubborn and ignores the facts (like it’s raining frogs) to the detriment of his own people. No matter what signs and wonders or pestilence and pain come his way, he hangs on to his stubbornness. Why? Looks like when the Nile ran with blood, the first plague, he would have said, “Get those Israelites outta here.” But he didn’t. His pride—which God may have given him, as a lesson to the rest of us—just wouldn’t let him do the right thing. He had to show his personal power. His heart stayed hard for quite a while.
There’s another phrase in Hebrew that I especially love: “am echad, lev echad”… one people, one heart. Would that it were true. People may think that the tension, for Jews, is with the Gentiles or the Palestinians. In fact, our biggest tension is with our fellow yehudim, with Am Yisrael. We can be very hard-hearted with each other.
I’m online a lot. I have lots of Jewish friends and have “liked” lots of Jewish stuff on Facebook. I read Jewish blogs and I am in several Jewish groups on LinkedIn. On a daily basis, I’m just astounded at the things Jews say to each other. Judgement, snarkiness, name-calling, holier-than-thou and “I’m a better Jew than you” stuff. One way to be a Jew, from people who think their way is the only way.
The Orthodox haven’t cornered the market on dissing other Jews, by the way. Reform and secular Jews have been known to ridicule super-observant Jews. Still, I bristle at being called a “not religious” Jew. Really, then why am I here?
It doesn’t matter what the topic is: food, rituals, Israel, Torah…it’s always an argument. Sure, argument is our national sport, but it should be disputation of the Talmudic kind, where everybody gets to talk and all opinions are given consideration. I recently saw a guy call a fellow Jew a jihadist, an Arab propagandist, evil, ignorant of the mitzvot, and mentally deficient because he is a vegetarian. Online, this kind of nastiness is very public, a shanda for the goyim. In private, it is a knife in the heart of the Jewish people, and the Jews put it there. We do it to each other. Somebody’s always ready to tell another Jew that he’s not doing it right.
We’re well into the year 5774, but 2014 is ready to begin. Let’s resolve to approach our fellow Jews “sim lev,” more carefully. Let’s be “am echad,” one people with “lev echad,” one heart. Let’s make our hearts a little softer toward each other.
Ken y’hi ratzon, may it only be…
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Kim Phillips is a Jewish artist specializing in papercut art.
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