Summer is winding down. Mine was productive and wonderful. Except for three weeks I spent on the couch hosting a virus. And then the weeks I spent getting well. Poor me. I tried so hard to read. But my attention span was only 280 characters long. So, I spent a lot of time reading twitter.
There, I follow many political writers. Some are optimistic about political activism. Others feel that everyday people have little power. Because there’s much we can’t control. Thus, twitter can be distressing.
Tweeters know this. So, every few days, they ask each other: please, post photos of your pets. Adorable ones, especially. So, twitter can be uplifting, too.
Torah is like twitter, in this way. Especially the book of Devarim – Deuteronomy. It’s quite political. And much of it is distressing. Including Parshat Ekev (Deut. 7:12 – 11:25). “You have lots of enemies,” Moses says. “So, you should wipe them out. You’re not really very nice, anyway. Rather, you’re quite sinful. And, if you’re not careful, you’ll destroy the planet. But you can do better.”
And most of us try. But still, so much is out of our control. Public events, anyway.
But maybe our minds, hearts, and spirits are different. That’s what the ancient Stoic and Epicurean philosophers believed. Empires control the economy, courts, and civic peace. But individuals control their thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. So, these philosophers recommended, turn inwards. Master what you can.
Early Hasidic teachers of Torah taught this, too. Yes, they acknowledged, much of Torah is about politics. About our flawed early history as confused riff-raff. And crazy group dynamics that don’t change. But Torah is so much more than that. It’s also a map of the spirit.
To see the map, you have to move past literal reading. And into metaphor. Sure, Torah describes community dynamics. But also the community of one person’s inner voices. Events happen in local places. But each place is also a psychic space. Kings structure politics. But the King of King of Kings shapes consciousness.
Parshat Ekev seems to invite a Hasidic spiritual reading. Here’s a sample section.
The Holy One brings you to a land of goodness, a land of streams, springs of water, and deep rivers flowing from the hills and from the valleys. A land of wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olive oil and honey. A place with no danger and no scarcity — even the rocks are filled with precious metals. And when you are content, say “Thank you” to God (Deut. 7:7-10).
Literally, the verses talk about the land flowing with milk and honey. The one the army will enter. To wipe out the enemies. Take their fields, orchards, and mines. Or die trying. No one will escape the war. God and Moses have decided.
But metaphorically, the verses talk about happiness, contentment, inner peace. A mood of gratitude, nourishment, and security. The Holy One, the spirit, brings you there. Has brought you there, in fact. But, to realize it, you have to lift your spirit in appreciation. Because only you can control your attitudes.
Here, Torah really is like twitter. Read its world one way, and it can be quite harsh. But, read it another way, and it’s comforting. It all depends on what you put in your mental feed.
Thus, I highly recommend spiritual readings of Torah. Not as the only reading. But as an antidote. Maybe when the Torah’s version of history upsets you. Or when current events push you to despair. Because these spiritual metaphors kept our ancestors going. Renewed their hope. Shored up their strength.
Just as (dare I say this?) photos of cute companion animals do on twitter today.