Shoftim: Walk with Simplicity

Be wholesome (‘tamim’) with G-d

Deuteronomy 18:13

To be ‘tamim’ with G-d means: Walk with Him with simplicity and without guile. Do not seek to manipulate the future; rather, accept whatever He brings upon you wholeheartedly. Then, He will be with you and you will reap the rewards of His apportionment.

-Rashi’s commentary
as quoted from

Instead of complaining about someone’s behavior toward you, it is more constructive to work on your own behavior toward him.

Ignore another person’s grouchiness and anger, and speak cheerfully and with compassion. If you find this difficult, pretend that you are an actor on stage. Adopting this attitude can keep people from much needless quarreling and suffering. Do it consistently and you will see major improvements in their behavior toward you.

Be flexible. People differ greatly on what they evaluate as “positive,” and it is necessary to understand the unique needs of each person you’re dealing with. If one approach is unsuccessful, try other approaches. But keep trying.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #555
“Put On Your Best Act”

You may be wondering what all of the above has to do with this week’s Torah Portion Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9). We can see that Rashi has focused on a very small part of the reading and derived a very specific principle.

It’s also a principle that is very hard to live up to. As people of faith, we are tempted to “manipulate the future” all the time by asking, praying, and pleading to God for everything that we want and all that is important to us. That’s not a bad thing, but human beings can be very self-indulgent. We tend to want what we want when we want it and are rather disappointed with God when He doesn’t deliver the “goods” on time and in the way that we ordered them.

The same is true of our relationships with other people. As Rabbi Pliskin points out, when there is an “issue” between us and someone else, we almost invariably blame the other person for the problem. Most of the time, it never occurs to us to look in the mirror and see if the person staring back at us has anything to do with it…or everything to do with it.

If only we could stop ourselves and the events flowing around us and take a really good look at who we are and what’s going on. But then, isn’t that what the month of Elul is all about? OK, I understand that the practice of deep self-examination and taking a “spiritual inventory” during Elul is commonly associated with observant Jews as they approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but I’ve also said that it wouldn’t hurt for a few Christians to take up the practice as well. Perhaps we would all discover that the source of whatever pains and sorrows and hurts we experience isn’t located outside of us at all.

When we are in pain, are frustrated, or angry, we blame God or we blame other people, or we blame the cruelty of the “generic” universe. Everything’s so complicated. There are too many rules. There’s no clear-cut guideline to tell us how to live our lives and be satisfied with what we’ve got.

Or is there?

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. –Micah 6:8 (ESV)

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. –John 13:34 (ESV)

Ben Zoma would say…Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot. -from Pirkei Avot 4:1

HumbleGod is very clear in His intent. Jesus makes his meaning plain. At the core of what God wants and what He knows will satisfy us is not controversies and criticisms, not possessions or acquisitions, but rather to walk simply and humbly with our God and to do good to our fellow human beings. If your life is complicated and messy, it’s most likely not because of anyone else. Even if you’ve had a difficult life, if your family was abusive, if your school teachers were critical, if your church leaders were harsh, at some point as you become an adult, you must begin to cast off your chains or learn to be their victim forever.

Ironically, in order to remove the weight of our restraints and apply the principle of making our lives less of a burden, we have to do something we don’t always want to do. We have to work and work hard to take greater personal responsibility for who we are in our lives and in our faith:

If one wishes to add on more restrictions than the law requires, one may do so for oneself, but not [make such demands] of others. -Shulchan Aruch

Some people employ a double standard. One set of rules applies to themselves, and another to everyone else. The Shulchan Aruch, the standard authoritative compilation of Jewish law, accepts this policy – but on one condition: the more restrictive set of rules must apply to oneself, and the more lenient apply to other people.

Guidelines exist for many things, such as the percentage of income that one should give for tzedakah. Many tzaddikim, righteous people, retained only the barest minimum of their income for themselves, just enough to provide for their families, and gave everything else to the poor. However, they would never expect anyone else to follow their example, and some even forbade it.

Our minds are ingenious in concocting self-serving rationalizations. Sometimes we may have excellent reasons not to give more liberally to tzedakah, even if it is within the required amount. We may project into the future, worry about our economic security, and conclude that we should put more money away for a rainy day. Yet we often criticize people who we feel do not give enough to tzedakah.

We should be aware of such rationalizations and remember that the more demanding rules should apply to ourselves. If we are going to rationalize, let us rationalize in a way that gives the benefit of doubt to others.

Today I shall…

remember to be more demanding of myself than I am of others.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 5”

There is no greater challenge than to seek God. But instead of looking to Heaven, or to your house of worship, or to the holy men, look within. See if you can discover the footsteps of your Master as you peer into your heart. If you can’t, perhaps it’s time to start a new journey and follow where Jesus is leading you.

Good Shabbos.

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