Parsaht Ki Tavo Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8
How long is a minute?
When I was a child, my friends and I would test each other: Did we know how long a minute was? Of course we knew that a minute equaled 60 seconds, but did we know how long a minute felt?
“Go!” someone looking at a watch would proclaim, and we would sit there, silently, listening to the seconds tick away.
“Now!” someone else would yell when the supposed minute had gone by. Never did a full minute pass. We always stopped the clock far short of that full 60 seconds: We never made it past 40, maybe 45.
Time is a funny thing. A lone minute seems like forever, yet, when each minute becomes part of a day, a week, a year, it seems that time passes us by, disappearing before we accomplish everything that we set out to do. We focus on the multitude of tasks on hand, seldom stopping to appreciate the uniqueness of every minute that passes.
Yet, we are not alone in our failure to notice the tiny miracles that life offers. It seems that the Israelites, too, neglected to see all that went on around them. In this week’s Torah portion, Moses reminds the people of the miracles they have witnessed, of all the things that God has done for them: “You have seen all that God did before your very eyes, those signs and great wonders. Yet, until this day, God has not given you a lev l’da’at, a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear.”
What is this “heart to know?” In a different translation, we find a lev l’da’at defined as a mind to understand. How can a “heart to know” and a “mind to understand” be synonymous? Don’t they suggest completely different ideas?
Our tradition teaches that each part of the body symbolizes a different character attribute and that the heart is the instrument of understanding. Yet, in our modern world, we associate knowledge with the brain, the mind. We understand complex information because we study long hours, read the latest materials and know how to use our complicated computer systems.
This is the intellectual understanding that we eventually achieve if we earn enough degrees, read enough newspapers and engage in enough political discussions. We seek knowledge to provide rational explanations and coherent definitions of what goes on around us. This is the essence of a mind to understand. We know much in our minds, but we understand little in our hearts.
What then is a “heart to know?” Perhaps it is what allows us to suspend our belief in reality. Perhaps it is what lets us believe in miracles, to have faith in God and to stop seeking logical interpretations for what we observe. We know with our hearts when we stop to notice how extraordinary life can be — when we take time to really feel each of our minutes, not simply to let them pass by. In other words, a heart to know is an appreciative one, a heart filled with awe that is thankful for all that God does for us.
But it is not so easy to simply open our hearts to knowing. Like the Israelites, we see life’s daily miracles without really seeing them.
For there are ways to see what goes on around us, and then there are ways to really see and know what happens. The first is the kind of seeing we do when we fall into routines of habit — when our work and activities fail to stimulate us. Our hearts are not in it. But there is a different way of seeing — one that fills us with knowledge. It involves opening ourselves, and our hearts, to all we encounter.
With our minds, we all too often see only the ordinary, the mundane, the familiar. But by opening our hearts, it is possible to gain a new perspective. During this month of Elul, as we prepare for the start of the High Holidays, may we not only understand with our minds how miraculous our lives are, but also know it in our hearts as well.
Rabbi Jessica Locketz is the associate rabbi of Temple Emanuel of South Hills. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.