How to Silence the Negative Self-Talk and Practice a Little Religious Self Care
They tell of story of the Chiddushei HaRim who was approached by an irreligious Jew. The man challenged the Rebbe: “Rebbe, I don't believe that Torah the is true. The Torah tells us in the second paragraph of Shma (in our Parsha) that:
If you listen carefully to my Mitzvos... I will give you rain and wealth... You will eat and be satisfied.
But Rebbe I don't keep any of the mitzvos! I don't keep shabbos, I don't keep kosher, no Yom tov, no Tefillah, no Tzedaka, no Massim Tovim. And look at me – I have a beautiful and successful life!”
The Chidushei HaRim looked at him with astonishment. “How do you know that this is what the Torah says in the second paragraph of the Shema?”
“Come on, Rebbe. I'm not a fool. When I was younger, they taught me the Shema in cheder. I said it for many years before learning the truth.”
“Wow,” said the Chidushei HaRim “Consider for a moment that it is the value of your Kriyas Shema that is the reason for all of your brachos. Imagine if you would choose to do more today...”
Rashi famously notes in that the Torah opens this week from the Medrash Tanchuma:
והיה עקב תשמעון – אם המצות הקלות שאדם דש בעקביו תשמעון. If you will listen to even the lighter mitzvos which a person tramples on with his heels...
Classically, we read this Rashi as a call to Yiras Shamayim and greater attention to the details of Mitzvos. On a personal level, for years this Rashi induced an overwhelming feeling of religious anxiety in me. Feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy . Of course, there is value to such feelings. Sometimes they push us to do more, to be more, to be better Jews. But not always.
Sometimes those feelings induce paralysis, frustration and hopelessness. Sometimes we feel that nothing we do could ever be good enough.
But the Tiferes Shlomo of Radomsk explains differently. The Torah here is not demanding of us to shrink in disappointment. On the contrary: Hashem is inviting us to engage in some much needed Religious Self-Care.
Indeed, there are many mitzvos that we trample with our heels. But these are not the mitzvos that we are not doing, they're the mitzvos that we are doing – but are not machshiv. We don't think of them as big things. And nothing could be further than the truth.
Rav Kook (עין איה על שבת ה:יב) writes that:
שכשם שאנו קוראים “מה גדלו מעשיך ד'” , כך אנו מרחיבים להשתומם השתוממות של הדר וזיו אורה לאמר “מה קטנו מעשיך ד'” Just like we exclaim “How great are Your works Hashem”, so too we should be so profoundly impressed with their beauty and radiance to exclaim “How small are Your works Hashem.”
Hashem cares deeply about small acts and tiny details. Perhaps the greatest disservice to ourselves is to belittle that which Hashem considers enormous.
The Gemara (Yevamos 47a) details the requirements of conversion – that a person who wishes to convert to Judaism has to be informed of מקצת מצות קלות ומקצת מצות חמורות – Some of the light mitzvos and some of the heavy mitzvos.
It's a peculiar statement that bothers many of the Rishonim. Why not obligate us to teach everything?
The Meiri (בית הבחירה (מאירי) מסכת יבמות דף מז עמוד א) explains: > מודיעין אותו מקצת מצות קלות ומקצת מצות חמורות ויראה הטעם בקלות מפני שעובדי האלילים אין להם בדרכי דתיהם ועבודת אליליהם מצות יתירות וכשישמע מצות יתירות שלנו והקלות שבהם יאמר בלבו כמה דקדוקין הם מדקדקים ללא צורך ויחזור בו > We inform him of some of the light mitzvos and some of the heavy mitzvos. We teach the light mitzvos since worshipers of idolatry do not have in their religions the concept of detailed obligations, and to ensure he knows what he is committing to, we need to teach the importance of small details.
In essence, the Meiri is teaching us that Judaism is unique in that we care about little things. Our avoda entails respecting, appreciating even the things that do not make billboards and headlines.
In this light, I'd like to reexamine Rashi's comment:
והיה עקב תשמעון – אם המצות הקלות שאדם דש בעקביו תשמעון. If you will pay careful attention to even your smallest achievements, then all of the Brachos of the Torah will be showered onto you.
Bracha belongs to those who give time and attention to appreciate their small victories in Torah, mitzvos, relationships and careers.
How many times a day do we feel like religious failures? How many times a day do we convince ourselves that we're bad Jews, bad parents, bad spouses? How often do we deem ourselves unworthy? And how often does that discourage us from trying harder?
“Oy, I'm such a terrible parent, I gave my child macaroni and cheese for the ninth meal in a row. Oy, am I a bad Jew, I haven't davened with Kavana since last Yom Kippur. Oy, I'm such an Am HaAretz, I haven't learned a piece of Gemara since high school.”
In our quiet moments, who doesn't have stereotypical and overwhelming Jewish guilt over what we're failing at?
Of course, we should feel the pressure to do better. But what about the K'rias Shma that you sang with your kid before they fell asleep after a hard day? And the phone call that you spend all too long on, cheering up a friend that needed your shoulder to cry on? What about the tzedaka you gave? And that you came to shul on Shabbos? What about the pro-Israel post that upset your co-workers?
Don't forget that you're regularly making massive life, financial and social sacrifices to be amongst the few, the proud, that don't spend Shabbos on an iPhone and binge watching Netflix while eating Ben & Jerry's.
These are the mitzvos that we trample on. And they're enormous! The most savage tactic of the Yetzer Hara is to convince us to trample upon our own mitzvos. It's even worse for our kids who grow up thinking that they're bad Jews and terrible people because they're not perfect.
And so the Tiferes Shlomo tells us from the Ari HaKadosh that “Eikev” means the “Heel of Jewish History”, the end of time before Mashiach comes. That's us, that's our generation. What was Moshe's instruction to us at the end of time? What do we need to know? He explains:
Every Jew needs to know that in the darkness of the final Galus, the most precious thing to Hashem is the tiny bit of Torah and Tefillah that we offer. In a world were there is so little illumination, every tiny light matters.
The Kotzker would say that our Parsha is Hashem's promise to us: “והיה עקב תשמעון – In the end you will listen.” If only, he continued, we might listen already now.
Hashem should help us to listen now. To value ourselves, our efforts and our successes. He should help us to see that the only thing that we're trampling beneath our feet is the road ahead.