A Very Narrow Bridge

The world is a very narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid. ~Nachman of Breslov

Category: Parshat Hashavua

What is Tamim?

Have I mentioned how much I love Devarim (Deuteronomy)? Probably. I love how it wraps things up. I love it’s reflectiveness. I love how it spends so much time on what the Israelites need to strive for when they are on their own after they cross the Jordan. How it fits so perfectly with this time of year. It’s like the guide for heshbon hanefesh for our soul’s accounting.

This week is Shoftim. (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 16:18 – 21:9). It’s got a lot going on. Appointing judges and magistrates, how to deal with complex legal cases, “Justice, Justice, you shall pursue!” Who has to fight in wars, and who doesn’t. Stamp out paganism now! Don’t be a soothsayer.

Then, right there, in the middle of the soothsayer part, this line shows up: תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה, עִם יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ. Tamim tih’yeh im Adonai Elohecha. Be wholehearted with your God.

The weird word here is tamim. Is it really “wholehearted?” Is it only “wholehearted?” Other places it’s translated a lot of other ways: Innocent, complete, whole, entire, wholesome, unimpaired, having integrity, pure, blameless…the list goes on and on…and on.

Here’s what the famous medieval commentator Rashi has to say:

Walk with God simple-heartedly (bet’mimut) and look for­ward to what He has in store. Do not probe the future, but rather accept whatever happens to you simple-heartedly…

Basically, don’t keep looking for the next big thing. Don’t look for the better person to go out with or marry, don’t go looking for the cooler job, the more fashionable city…just be here for a minute, please. Be present. Be aware. Seriously, be here. Otherwise you’re just going to be miserable.

My havruta says tamim is the best way to hebraicize the word “zen.” I love that guy so very much.

He doesn’t mean the “calm” sense of zen. He means the perfectly present, open hearted, totally cool with the situation, trusting, kind of zen.

So there’s the tamim part. But there’s another word. A tiny word with two letters in Hebrew: עִם im. It means “with.”

So it’s not openhearted, simplehearted, present, innocent, trusting to God. Or about God. Or of God.

It’s with God.

If we are tamim, God will be tamim. God, the Universe, Humanity…whatever you want to call it. I say God. God will be present. That’s where God lives. In temimut. (That’s the noun form.)

Shoftim is mostly about the importance of justice and compassion.

Both of those depend upon being present.

It’s the first week of Elul. The first Shabbat in Elul. It’s heshbon hanefesh time. Reflecting time. Honest accounting time. Looking inward time.

Have I been tamim enough? Openhearted, compassionate, present, enough? Have I spent too much time looking for the next best thing? If I haven’t opened my heart to the present, why not?

Benno U’veini

I was talking to Benno a while ago. Here’s some of what we said:

Benno:  Can we talk about being disciplined?

Harry: Yep.

More highlights:

“We are taught that being disciplined is about doing the things we don’t want to do, and that it’s unpleasant.”

“I am struggling with what I want vs. what I am willing to do about it…and I realized this morning that being disciplined (for me) has more to do with being thoughtful, and less about denying myself something.”

“A Lenten discipline is about being thoughtful. Not about self-denial. We make choices…we agree to those choices. That is discipline.”

“Throughout the year, we take some things on, and give things up. We make choices, mindfully.”

“I am struggling with the ‘agree to those choices’ part.”

“I am in control. I have made my choice–I can be angry at [the situation], or I can just be myself with an open heart. I have agreed to the choice.

I can also say “No” throughout my day/week/month/year. Or to respond to requests with a suggestion for something I feel would serve the project—or whatever—better.”

“I just have to hold myself to my agreements, like walking more, better, or accept that they aren’t working and make a new agreement with [myself]; if walking’s not what [I] need, what could I do instead?”

This week we read Parshat Re’eh (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 11:26 – 16:17).

It begins:

.רְאֵה, אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם–הַיּוֹם:  בְּרָכָה, וּקְלָלָה

Re’eh anochi notein lifneichem hayom brachah u’klalah.

“See, I give you today a blessing and a curse.”

We have choices. The parsha (Torah portion) continues (and I’m just going to translate and sort of paraphrase it):

A blessing if you will listen [for] the connection to God, which I explain to you today. A curse if you do not listen [for] the connection to God and turn away from the Path which I explain to you today…

We can choose what we want to do. We can listen for those connections, or we can ignore them.

But we need to accept our choices and live with the consequences.

The parsha goes on to give 55 mitzvot, which is kind of a lot. Actually, it’s definitely a lot if you think about them as commandments. When I was taking liberties in my translation, I used the word “connections” for mitzvot. You can see where I learned that here.

55 seems like a lot.


Discipline isn’t about being forced to do things we don’t want to do, or not to do things we really want to do. It’s about mindfully making choices and accepting what will come from them. Blessings…or curses.

It’s really 55 opportunities for mindful connection. To yourself, to the community, to God. That’s the practice.  That’s why I love being Jewish.

I’m incredibly lucky to have my Episcopalian friend to teach me Torah.

Oh, the title for this post is a pun on “Beino u’veini” which means “between him and me.” I didn’t make the pun and I can’t take credit for it.

Cowboy Up

Last week we read, in Vaetchanan (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 3:23 – 7:11), about Moshe’s plea to God to forgive him enough to allow him to enter the Land—just for a look around.

God won’t be moved. The answer is no. The answer is actually:

רַב-לָךְ–אַל-תּוֹסֶף דַּבֵּר אֵלַי עוֹד, בַּדָּבָר הַזֶּה

Rav-lach–al tosef daber alai od badavar hazeh! (You have enough! Don’t speak to me about this any more!) (Devarim 3:26)

And that’s that.

Sorry. It’s just not going to happen.

This week, in Eichev (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 7:12 – 11:25), it’s time to see what the people are all about.

When they enter the land, will they be scared? Will they turn to other gods? When they experience abundance, will they forget that they didn’t do it all on their own? Will they decide they’re special? Entitled?

Will they be able to tap into the fierceness necessary, not only to conquer, but to continue to live their lives with discipline and authenticity?

What are they made of, anyway?

Moshe thinks he knows, and he’s not at all happy.

Moshe. Rejected Moshe. Moshe who got what he’s getting. Who shouldn’t bring it up again. Hurt Moshe. Moshe who’s read ahead and knows what’s coming.

Moshe who had to intercede on the people’s behalf so many times. Who fasted for 40 days–twice (and at his age) in order to receive the Torah. Who’s already buried his sister and his brother.

That Moshe.

That’s the Moshe who has to go before these people and tell them, in effect, that it’s time for them to cowboy up. These people who’ve been a pain in the ass from the first day he met them.

And then.

Then something amazing happens. Because we find out how they are going to accomplish that:

וּמַלְתֶּם, אֵת עָרְלַת לְבַבְכֶם; וְעָרְפְּכֶם–לֹא תַקְשׁוּ, עוֹד

U’maltem et arlat l’vavchem, v’arpechem lo takshu od. (Devarim 10:16)

Want to know how you’re going to grow up? To let that cowboy out? You’re going to open your heart and stop being stiff-necked and stubborn.

Know why that works?

Because you’re going to get hurt. That open heart is going to be broken.

You know what happens then? You learn that heartbreak isn’t the end of the world. And if you loosen your neck, if you stop stubbornly clinging to the idea that you deserve more, you’re going to realize that what you got actually is enough.

Rav-lach isn’t just “you have enough,” it’s “you have a lot.”

I need to remember this. I need to remember to open my heart and accept the abundance I have been given; the fierceness is always there.