How can we make the Torah as fresh and exciting EVERY day as the day it was given?
Table for Five: Ki Teitzei
In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
This day, the Lord, your God, is commanding you to fulfill these statutes and ordinances, and you will observe and fulfill them with all your heart and with all your soul.
Yehudit Wolffe, Founder, Bais Chana, STAM Center Los Angeles, and Bar/ Bat Mitzvah Tmimim
How are humans better than AI robots? Answer: We have a Godly soul.
How can we be assured that AI will not be more valuable than humans? Answer: If we use our best asset: our soul! Will competing with AI spur us to value our soul more? Will we strive more to fulfill the purpose of our soul? WHAT IS THAT PURPOSE? Surely, it’s not being artificial robots following commands! “God is commanding you”… “fulfill them with all your heart and with all your soul”! How?
Tanya chapter 2, teaches that our soul is “a part of G-d infused into our body.” We all have a soul which experiences relationships with love and joy. Our souls can experience Godliness and a relationship with G-d beyond the body’s functions. We are not programmed, we are challenged and given chances to CHOOSE wisely. We choose to connect with G-d making our body and soul work together (our souls and bodies have opposite desires) anywhere, anytime. We choose to give our soul command and control and this makes G-d present in our body and world. We choose our soul’s perspectives and desires, making G-d known as our truth and essence. G-d’s truth, will and wisdom (Torah) becomes our life’s focus and reality. Choosing G-d’s will and wisdom reveals G-d’s purpose to create us, the world: including AI! Perhaps valuing our soul as our main asset is the true intent for which AI was created?
Salvador Litvak, Writer, Director, Accidental Talmudist
Our verse draws a line in the sand. Until now, says Ramban, Moses taught the laws – now turn those thoughts and words into deeds!
Does that mean we weren’t performing our obligations for 40 years in the desert? God forbid! The moment had arrived, however, when Moses finished transmitting the law. The rest of his month-long sermon would be the greatest motivational speech ever given – one whose impact never faded. Rashi says our verse opens with the words, “This day” to tell us that Torah should be as fresh and exciting every day as the day it was given. And we do that by cleaving to it with all our heart and all our soul.
Sounds great, but how do we observe and perform laws given in the ancient world via ancient language with all our heart and all our soul? The question mirrors the most basic Jewish commandment – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.” (Deut 6:5). We do that by 1) desiring it, 2) working at it, and 3) saying “I love you, God” regularly, just as you do with your spouse, parent, or child. In performing the rest of God’s commandments then, we also need to cultivate desire, work, and the language of love.
So prior to doing any mitzvah, we can say, “Thank you, God, for giving me everything, and for commanding me to do this. Help me do it right. I love you.”
Rabbi Scott N. Bolton, Congregation Or Zarua, New York, NY
The idea of commandedness and chiyyuv – Jewish responsibility – is foundational. It is also a challenge to free-thinkers, freedom-lovers and emancipated citizens. The Jewish People is asked first to embrace a notion of being commanded not only through the covenantal arrangement our ancestors made but to embrace our ways, present tense. God, whose voice echoes through eternity, commands the Jewish People to fulfill statutes and ordinances. “I’ll do it when I understand it, if I accept it” is antithetical to the Torah. “If not now when?” as the Sage Hillel said, is the call to action that reflects the true Jewish spirit, when it comes to Jewish observance and fulfilling mitzvot with all our heart and soul.
But does punctilious observance of one or another of the statutory laws fulfill the obligation that our verse outlines? What is wrapping tefillin and then using our hands to steal from the proverbial cookie jar? What is standing on tiptoes to pronounce words like “holy, holy, holy” when we fall short of making soul connections to others who need our help or love?
The Torah here is warning against behaving religiously and letting our hearts fill us with antagonism, victimhood and self-righteousness. Moses is encouraging us to listen for the Divine voice, the message of the soul, which is only accessible through the performance of commandments. The Jewish way is to accept commandedness, in order to fill the heart with compassion and to complete one’s unique soul-mission. The statutes and ordinances are the keys to our hearts and souls.
Rabbi Yoni Dahlen, Spiritual Leader/Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Michigan
There is no theological concept within Jewish tradition more challenging or complicated than the idea of Moshiach, the coming of a Messiah. For the skeptically minded, (Yep, that’s me!) a redemptive character emerging from the woodwork to turn an upside down world rightside up feels fantastical at best and dangerous at worst. But I think there’s another way to conceptualize messianism; one that I believe better fits the call of Jewish life to fulfill the words in our Torah, to engage in our mitzvot with all of our heart and all of our soul.
See, long before modern physics; before string theory, micro biomes, and complexity theory, there was kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, and with it, the fervent belief that all of existence is one. That we are connected to one another, to the world around us, and to the Divine. And because of this great cosmic unity, every action, and conversely, every lack of action, directly impacts all of creation.
With this in mind, the mystics teach that the choices we make (or don’t make!) do one of two things: 1) Help put a broken world back together. Or, 2) Break the world apart even more. To live with heart and soul, therefore, is to live with the intention to turn the upside down world rightside up. It is to bring redemption. This changes everything.
Because now, the theology is still hard, but not epistemologically. It’s hard because we have to stop waiting for Moshiach and instead… BE Moshiach.
Dr. Erica Rothblum, Head of School, Pressman Academy
Some people keep kosher because eating intentionally elevates the experience of eating, brings additional gratitude and mindfulness to their habits, and connects them to God with each mouthful. And others keep kosher but, if they found out there was no God, would immediately eat a Philly Cheesesteak. They are both keeping kosher, but only one is fulfilling the mitzvot with their hearts and their souls.
Observing the mitzvot with our full hearts and souls is one way to cultivate joy. Author Angela Williams Gorrell writes “Joy is what we feel in our bones when we feel connected to what is good, beautiful, meaningful.” When we feel connected to the mitzvot, when we observe them because we find meaning in them, when we fulfill them because we want to, we have the potential to bring joy into our lives.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks shares that joy ”is what gives the Jewish people the strength to endure. Joy is the ability to celebrate life.” Our world needs more joy right now. People, individually, need to feel more joy right now. One way of doing this is through observing the mitzvot with our hearts and souls – in doing this, we are able to connect with our community, to connect to God, and to connect to something bigger than ourselves.
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