Inside Out & Loving God - Parashat V'Etchanan
Delivered at Temple Sinai in July 2015
Who here has seen the movie Inside Out? Without giving away too much, in the movie, an 11-year-old child named Riley moves across the country with her parents, and we are privy to the inner workings of her emotional life as she tries to adapt to her new surroundings. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust are all characters in Riley’s head, and each have their own way of trying to help her deal with the challenges of the move.
I have spoken about this movie with people who are therapists, and they are thrilled – as am I – that our popular culture is beginning to speak about emotional intelligence and about the various parts that make up each of our selves.
But the idea of people being made up of parts didn’t start with Pixar, or even Internal Family Systems therapy!
This week’s parasha, V’Etchanan, includes one of the centerpieces of our liturgy – the Shema and V’ahavta. The V’ahatva is famous for the words "and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. " But these words, especially b’chol levavcha u’vchol nafshecha, which are translated as with your heart and with all your soul, are actually repeated over and over again in the book of Deuteronomy. They are like a refrain in a poem, coming up again and again to grab our attention.
But what do they actually mean?
First of all, lev, which is translated as heart in biblical translations, actually means something like the seat of emotion and intellect. The heart–mind combination. And nefesh, often translated as soul, in the Torah has more of a connotation of self.
So what does b’chol levavcha u’vchol nafshecha - you shall love God with all your mind- heart, and with all your Self with a capital S - mean? (If the term loving God does not work for you, you can substitute the idea of loving highest good, the well-being of the world, loving the source of life, or any other words that conjure awe, wonder, and gratitude for you.)
We are each made up of parts – protective, joyful, traumatized, optimistic, shy, empowered, the list goes on - there are so many parts of us, parts that stay stuck in certain memories of childhood, parts that haven't given up on some dream or expectation of life, parts that want one thing and parts that want something else. Each part is doing its best to serve our greater good, our Self with the capital S, even though they are so often in conflict with each other, and sometimes do not have up to date information about the actual reality of our lives. In my experience, much of the conflict that happens between - and within - people comes from forgetting to recognize that we are made of parts. We expect each other and ourselves to be internally consistent, but we’re not. It's part of being human.
The Torah teaches us this truth when it brings in the word b’chol – with All. We are not just to love God with our heart and our soul, or our mind-heart and Self, but with all of our mind-heart and all of our Self. In this tiny word b’chol is the recognition that we are not a monolithic self – that we each contain worlds, and that it would be possible to do something, like love God, with only one or two of our many parts. So the Ve’ahavta reminds us to work towards the holy and difficult goal of loving God with all of us, on creating habits of mind and heart that help us to serve the highest good.
The Mishnah (Berachot 9:5) teaches that b’chol levavcha, with all your heart, means loving God with our two inclinations –yetzer hatov, the good inclination, and yetzer harah, the bad inclination. This is a, to say the least, simplistic view of the human psyche. But the mishna goes on to say that we should love God b’chol midah u’midah, with each and every attribute of ourselves! The ancient text of the Mishna recognizes that it is possible to love God with all parts of us, even the parts we might think are slimy, shameful, and not worth love or belonging. And perhaps, therefore, we might live into the sense that God loves those parts right back.
When we are a inner conflict, when we are struggling to adapt to new situations like Riley in Inside Out, when we are fighting with our loved ones or facing a challenge at work, we can treat all the varied parts of ourselves with compassion, recognizing that they are doing their best to care for us, and then we can work to align our actual behavior towards the love of God – toward the highest healing good for all.