Cardiology Meets Theology
Some years ago a movie called Pay It Forward told the story of a schoolboy responding to his teacher’s challenge to improve humankind. The boy reversed the formula which normally finds kindness reciprocated, or paid back, and envisioned a new reality by making a condition of doing something good for someone, that they agree to do good for someone else in need. Kindness would become contagious and the ripple-effect an epidemic of virtue.
Helping us prepare for Sunday evening’s New Year 5773, our Torah portion this Shabbat describes God circumcising our hearts. “Then the Lord your God will open up (mal) your hearts and the hearts of your offspring to love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul, in order that you may live” (Deut. 30:6). My good friend and teacher, Erica Brown writes in her important new book, Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe, of how God circumcises our hearts by puncturing a hole in the thickness of our stubborn, sometimes callous heart, making a ‘spiritual stent’ through which blockages are released. “Our hearts need that hole.” Brown continues, “It must be wide enough to admit passion and compassion and anguish, but small enough to filter the emotions that paralyze us, and prevent us from transformation and caring.”
The Kotzker Rebbe pondered the reason why the Shema affirms: “These words shall be on your heart” rather than “in your heart.” His answer was that because the heart is not always open, we should lay them upon our hearts, so that when the heart does open, then they will be there, ready to enter.
I remember hearing a heartwarming story about a 1st grade boy who, while sitting at his desk, wet his pants and was mortified by the humiliation he was about to feel when classmates would become aware. Just then, a girl carrying a large pitcher of water coming toward him tripped, spilling the water into his lap. He was saved, while she was embarrassed. When it later occurred to him that she may not have tripped accidentally, he took her aside and asked, “Did you spill that water into my lap on purpose?” She nodded quietly confiding, “I once wet my pants too.”
May the arrival of Rosh Hashanah invite for each of us, the good to melt into our hearts, while the toxic eases out from them.
A sweet Shabbat and Shana to you.
Rabbi William Hamilton