The Real Heart of the Matter

4 Aug

Tonight begins a minor Jewish holiday known as Tu B’Av – the 15thof the month of Av.  While just six days ago we marked what is considered to be the absolute saddest day on the calendar, this day, Tu B’Avis considered to be, along with Yom Kippur, the happiest day of the Jewish year. A number of reasons are given for the celebration.  Among them is suggested that while the Jews wandered in the desert for forty years, female orphans without brothers could only marry within their tribe, to prevent their father’s inherited land in Eretz Yisrael from passing on to other tribes. On the fifteenthof Av of the fortieth year, this ban was lifted. (note that Yom Kippur is also a very happy day – what could make one happier than knowing that his or her sins and shortcomings can be forgiven.)

According to the Mishnah at the end of tractate Ta’anit, the celebration, on both days, included young unmarried women going out into the vineyards singing and dancing while young single men, in the market for wives, looked on.  (Hard to conceive of this happening today – for anMyBeatingHearty number of reasons.)

Today, here in Israel, Tu B’Avis celebrated as a day of love, of gifts and romance, withthe main decorative theme being lots of red hearts….the malls are filled with them.

What does the heart symbolize?  What do we mean when we read in this week’s Torah portion “And you shall serve Him with all of your heart and all of your soul.” (Dev. 11:13)

Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvot) understood  “service of the heart” to be the Biblical source for the obligation to pray.  And therefore, we often carry withus the image of ideal prayer as something that  is “heartfelt” – that is, said with a lot of feeling and a lot of emotion. 

However, associating the heart with love, emotion and feeling may not at all be what prayer is all about.  Many classical philosophers and scientists, including Aristotle, considered the heart – not the brain – to be the seat of thought and  reason, not only emotion.

Perhaps then the original meaning of serving God with all of your heart and all of your soul, meant that we are commanded to be astute and loyal servants of God.   

Surely one should love God, but that love is not to manifested so much in intense, emotional and tearful cryings out to God.  That is something else.  Service of God is meant to be performed through using our God-given blessings of thought and reason.

Here is what I am saying.

We serve God best when we are using our intelligence to reason, to discuss, and to decide responsibly, as individuals, and as a nation.  Service of God is not about throwing ourselves on God’s mercies, on stepping back and leaving Him to drive the order of the day.  We serve God when we activate the unique human blessings of wisdom and reason.

To love and serve God with all of your heart might actually mean, in its original context, to use your head! 

The highest level of service of God is therefore achieved through the study of Torah, for only in that way can one arrive at an informed and educated understanding of the objectives of divine service.  A servant has a keen understanding of what the master wants, what the master would do in any given situation… through study of Torah we bring ourselves closer to acquiring that understanding, to serving God with “all of your heart.”


One Response to “The Real Heart of the Matter”

  1. Carol Ducak Wednesday, August 5, 2009 at 3:19 am #

    Well said! It is a good reminder to use our heads to serve God with “all of your heart”.

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