Tonight, the Jewish community will begin Shabbat (the Sabbath) by reflecting upon the themes in Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25; Isaiah 49:14-51:3) which contains the final words of wisdom from Moses to the Children of Israel, including: “Perhaps you will say in your heart: these nations are greater than I (…) do not fear them, but remember what the Lord did (…) you shall not be terrified (…) nor your heart lifted up and you forget the Lord (…) Who brought you out of the land of Ancient Egypt, from the house of slavery, Who led you through that great and awesome wilderness.” (7:17-8:15)
Traditional rabbinic commentary understands the wilderness to be not only a historic experience and a geographic location, but also a state of mind: it is all too easy to let fear or ego control us… to feel overwhelmed. They taught that we are no different than the Children of Israel who compared themselves to the other nations, and found themselves lacking- we too may feel like we are wandering in a desert that feels great and awesome and terrifying… We give power to others, and perceive the outside world to be “awesome” and we forget where our deepest Power dwells. When we allow the outside world to define us, to become more powerful a voice than the “still, small Voice” deep within, then we become enslaved to a reality that can never save us. But, when we remember that we are not in that wilderness alone… rather, we are being led through there by a Force that will guide us and support us in difficult moments, no less than we were fed by manna in the desert so long ago… then we can let go of the fear and begin to trust…
This biblical passage also speaks about the dangers of idolatry: “the carvings of their gods shall you burn with fire: you shall not desire the silver or gold that is on them, or take it to you, lest you be ensnared with it (…) neither shall you bring an abomination into your house, lest you become accursed like it.” The deeper meaning is a reminder not to bring the external inside: not to let the physical world become more powerful than that of the heart and spirit. When we look at others, see their external reality, such as wealth, possessions or the appearance of success, and compare this to our inner lives, replete with doubts and regrets, too often we find ourselves lacking. Contemporary research warns that this phenomenon can be seen in the rising rates of depression and low-self-esteem that come from watching other people’s social media, and believing that their smiling postings and hundreds of likes somehow reflects a reality that is greater and “more awesome” than our own experience of wilderness and desert. Furthermore, frequent checking and posting to social media sites can lead to increased rates of social alienation, depression and anxiety. Traditional Jews observe Shabbat (the Sabbath) and holidays by disconnecting with electricity. What would happen if we, 21st century creatures, took a whole day a week to disconnect from social media… or if we were to observe that practice on our own personal “holy days”… those times that matter the most… get-togethers with family and friends?
Regardless of our religious beliefs, we don’t have to look far to think about how fear of what others will think impacts us. The danger is when we do or say something because we think we are supposed to, and not because it is true- this can lead to a feeling of disingenuousness and cognitive dissonance that can leave us feeling worse about ourselves. Our organizational core value of “integrity” is a reminder that we should always “do the right thing, in the right way, for the right reason”- we wash our hands before entering a patient room, regardless of whether anyone is watching. We follow our rules and protocols, regardless of whether Joint Commission is visiting our hospital. Yet, do we translate this way of living into our own lives? Do we say things or do things because we think we are supposed to do so? Do we put ourselves down, or fear that others will think less of us if they know “the real me”?
This coming week, let us take time to stop, and make space to listen to the “still, small voice” deep within… Let us let go of the fear of what others will think of us… let us let go of anxiety… let us relinquish control of the ego… May we disconnect from all that we do not experience as life-giving, and instead, refuel by turning inward… May we reconnect to our deepest Power, and may this help us to live with integrity, contentment and peace. May we be more fully ourselves… and connect more fully and authentically with others… and may this experience of connection and intimacy affirm for us our true worth. May we be blessed as we bless one another with the most precious of gifts… the gift of self/Self.