This week is a double Parsha: Matot-Massei. I focus on Matot.
In Parshat Matot Hashem commands Moshe to prepare Am Yisrael for war. “Take vengeance for Bnei Yisrael on the Midianites; afterward you will be brought unto your people.”1 We are nearing the end of Moshe’s life. Moshe knows that upon conquering the Midianites, he will die. He moves forward anyway. Rashi comments, “Although he heard that his death depended on the matter, he acted with joy and did not delay.”2 In the previous parsha, Moshe requests that Hashem appoint a replacement for him. Rashi again comments to say that this is said... “to inform you of the praiseworthiness of the righteous. When they leave the world, they put aside their own concerns, and deal with the concerns of the public.”3
Moshe’s reaction is contrasted with the reaction of Am Yisrael. We are told that they have to be pushed towards joining the war. Rashi quotes the Midrash and says, “when they heard that Moses’ death was associated with the execution of vengeance upon Midian, they refused to go to war until they were “handed over” against their own will.”4
Moshe accepts the moment despite what will come next. Am Yisrael rejects the moment because of what will come next. Life is quite simply a string of continuous moments – sensations and experiences – strung together, that run before us like an all-immersive movie. We can either resist the present because we think we know what is going to happen next, or we can commit ourselves wholly to the moment and listen very intensely for the guiding voice of Hashem. We can only hear that voice in the moment, when we quiet our mind and listen. Shma Yisrael. Hashem is our Gd. Hashem is One. But you can only hear that when you are very quiet. To live in the future is to make ourselves into Gd. A key component to successful relationships is defined roles. Hashem does not step on our toes. He does not take away our free will. He asks us to not take His role away either. His role is what will be. “אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה” – I will be what I will be.5
So we instead must play our role to the best of our ability. We must bring ourselves into the moment fully, with the wholeness of our hearts and the wisdom of our minds. We do not hold back because of what is coming next. We do not tiptoe because of what has come before. For Hashem, there is no before or after, there is just the infinite present. If we want to be in tzelem Elokim (the image of Hashem), we must align our experience of time with His. This is how Moshe lives. When he sees the burning bush he stops long enough to see it is not being consumed. He does not concern himself with what comes next. He is just here, now. If Moshe sat in this moment and looked only forward to his impending death, he might not have acted. Rather, he looks at what is being asked of him in the present moments and listens.
Every moment we have only to answer, Heneini. Here I am. All of me. Wholly. Fully. Not holding back because of fear. Not holding back because of pain. I want you Hashem and I know that only by living entirely NOW can I hear You, see You, feel You.
Most of us do not live like this. Just as Moshe hid his face, “because he was afraid to look upon Gd,”6 so do we. We live disconnected, lost in our minds, in worlds of our own creation. Everything that happens to us we feel the need to define, understand, and package into a little conceptual box that screams this makes sense. I understand this. When it doesn’t make sense, we panic, we fight, we rage. But we have to understand that it doesn’t make sense to us, ever. Until the end, maybe even beyond then. You’re trying to watch a minute of a movie and explain the entire movie without watching the end. Only Hashem can do that. But the truth is, it all does make sense. So much more sense than we can imagine. But we truly just have to trust it. So put aside your own concerns and deal exactly with what the moment is requesting. Don’t try to define it. Don’t try to build a box around it that says ok or not ok. Watch how your mind is extremely uncomfortable with this. It will immediately build a story. When the story is fractured because something didn’t fit, it will build a new story. “I love this job and this job gives me security and value.” Lost the job? “I didn’t even want this job. Honestly, now I’m going to have so much time for other things now.” What if you simply freed your mind from this role and let it just rest in a sea of trust? As Michael Singer says, “you are the one who is trying to use the analytical mind to protect yourself from the natural unfolding of life.”7 All this does is disconnect you from Hashem. It thinks that disconnect is safe. It protects you from reality because trusting Hashem and giving up control is just too scary. Imagine the peace and freedom you would feel if you freed your mind from this responsibility? Imagine the clarity and power and energy you would have to actually take all that you want from life?
We can live a life where our mental moods and world are no longer a distraction. We can direct our consciousness to anything we want and keep it there, staying calm and comfortable. Why do we define a busy day at work as stressful? All it is is a series of experiences one after the other like every other stretch of time in our lives. Why is this the experience that overwhelms us? It is because we feel pressure in the moment brought by forward-thinking – by what-ifs. We don’t have to know what will happen. We don’t have to think about what-ifs. It’s enough for us to realize that right now, Hashem is asking us to work hard. Smile. What comes after is in His hands.
David HaMelech reminds us consistently that Hashem is the conductor. We are merely the musicians. The musician does not know how the larger piece will emerge. He can only fill each note with love and passion. He can trust that he is a part of something far greater. And if he opens his ears and goes beyond the sound of his strings, he will hear the sound of gorgeous harmony. But only riiiiiight now. The more he tries to understand the harmony, to evaluate whether the music is good or bad, the more he loses it, the more he tries to play the role of the conductor. Such do we live our lives. We all have a song. If we think we are writing the music, then we are playing Gd. Gd does not need us to do his job for Him.
When we truly let go of outcomes, we live in the process. Imagine, all we are truly doing is walking peacefully and listening. When we are quiet and calm life moves like a dream. We are simply connected and quiet always. This doesn’t mean that we sacrifice what we want from life. It just means that we realize that if we can’t live life now, we also won’t be able to live life then, when we get what we think we want. We aren’t meant to be passive. This dichotomy, between surrender and action, is captured perfectly in prayer. With prayer, we can look forward and cry out for change. But we can only pray now. Our prayer is powerful to the degree that we let it consume us now. We call it avodat halev (work of the heart). We understand that the only way to truly get what we want is to change ourselves into that which is capable of receiving what we want. That change only happens now. Our prayers look forward, but they’re screamed out now.
May we merit all to experience the true peace that comes when we recognize our place in the orchestra of time, the harmony of infinite. If we understand, as the Ramchal does, that we were created so that we could choose to come close to Hashem, and if we understand that Hashem is the present moment, then the purpose of our life is to learn to live fully in the moment.8 As Kurt Vonnegut writes, “And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.”9
And so it goes…
If we live all of our lives within the confines of what our mind can understand, then we cannot possibly experience anything beyond its confines. That eliminates most spiritual experiences.
Being able to let go deep enough to go beyond your mind’s attempts to define and control is the key to unlocking deeper levels of spirituality. So just watch how uncomfortable it is for your mind to not understand something. See how you have defined everything throughout your day within a mental framework. Watch what happens when something falls outside that mental framework. What does that feel like? Can you let go of your mind’s attempts to build a new one at that moment?
- BaMidbar: 31:2
- Rashi: BaMidbar: 31:3
- Rashi: BaMidbar: 27:15
- Rashi: BaMidbar: 31:5
- Shemot: 3:14
- Shemot: 3:6
- Michael Singer: The Untethered Soul
- The Ramchal: Derech Hashem: Part 1:1
- Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse-five