Jewish Potentiality- Yitro, 5783
It’s a truth that all successful people know, from entrepreneurs and elite athletes to straight-A students: the way up includes falling, lots of falling!
This is the truth behind the Israelites receiving the Torah.
“All that Y-H-W-H has spoken we will faithfully do!” can be read as saying that they trust the life force unconditionally through the ups and downs of life.
Doing Before Understanding
The Meor Einayim opens his commentary on Parashat Yitro by zooming in on the moment right before the revelation in mount Sinai.
He underscores the Israelites’ enthusiastic and unconditional declaration of commitment to God before they even know what will be demanded of them:
"All that God has spoken we will do!" (Exo 19.8)
This Is going to be confirmed in the next Parashah, with the Israelites’ famous expression “We will do, and we will hear” (Na’assei Ve’nishma), which has become the most central tenet of the Jewish ethos.
"In the hour when Israel said we shall do' before 'we shall hear' (Exod. 24:7) a heavenly voice came forth and called out: "Who revealed this secret to My children, the expression used by the ministering angels?'" (Shabat, 88)
At first glance, the idea of “doing before understanding” may sound counterintuitive.
In most spiritual traditions, including Judaism, the invitation is to ponder before doing.
We are invited to respond rather than react, so that we can live from a place of understanding, agency and free will.
What is the difference here?
Doing before understanding, means committing to something. As opposed to being in a reactive mode, it takes a conscious decision.
It is an expression of profound trust.
Even when derived from a deep intuition, commitment requires taking a decision from the deep center of our being.
This is very different from an emotional impulse or reaction.
The Hasidic Master tells us that before we can enjoy the fruits of our spiritual work, (being in a state of Devekut: cleaving to the Divine), we need to establish a solid spiritual practice:
“When you speak the words in ecstatic joy, with love and awe, pleasure will follow. First you have to make the effort of working at God’s service.”
Many of us have met this phenomenon in one way or another.
Learning to play the guitar, starting a meditation practice, a new relationship, or any other journey of growth, starts with an investment, we don’t know what will unfold as we begin.
Effort Comes First
Sometimes we can’t even find the words to describe why we decide to commit to certain things. .
A deep intuition is very often the answer.
Even though the final destination is unclear and we have no map or compass, a voice within tells us that this is the path we should be following.
But there’s another challenge to new commitments. Often, it is going to be difficult before it starts being gratifying.
In order to learn how to run, we have to be able to fall, a lot! This is true for everyone, from toddlers to entrepreneurs.
In the context of spiritual practice, the Meor Einayim suggests that we can’t always be close to God, in a bliss-like state.
No matter how deeply connected and centered we might feel at times, we are bound to find ourselves disconnected, and off balance again.
But how can we find the necessary resources within us in order to keep going when we are down?
For the Meor Einayim, the key is trust.
“You must have faith that The whole earth is filled with God's glory (Isa. 6:3), and that "There is no place devoid of God."
Trust acknowledges that it doesn't know, and affirms that it will still get going. Trust has no guarantees, just a deep intuition.
This is the ethos behind our commitment in projects, relationships - and in our Parashah, behind the Covenant offered by God.
However, we need to keep recommitting, time and time again, because in our activities, and relationships, in our everyday life, everything constantly shifts: the body changes, mindsets change, things happen, people evolve.
Life, reminds us the Meor Einayim, works through “ebb and flow.”
So does our awareness.
A Meditation of Connection
“This is the essence of receiving the Torah (...), this is the essence of the Jewish journey and conduct, and this is how a person must walk”
The meaning of the Israelites receiving the Torah in such a way, “doing before hearing”, is that they realize they would forever be attached to God, the life force, even when they feel disconnected.
How do we reconnect (to God, or to Life) when that happens ?
For the Meor Einayim, it is by looking for the Divine within us.
He offers us a meditative practice to reconnect to life, to reconnect to God.
First, we turn within and, no matter how low or disconnected we feel, he invites us to acknowledge the one thing we can’t deny- we are alive.
Then, we can ask ourselves, “who is this life force of mine?”
ומי הוא החיות שלי
For the Meor Einayim the answer is simple.
Having described God as the “Life of Living,” (...) the life-force of all living things”,
Our life force is none other than “the Blessed Creator!”
In the ebb and flow of life, what helps us keep going when we have fallen is reconnecting to something stable that we can always trust.
The divine Aliveness that resides within us.