Rabbi O’s Weekly: Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)Can You Manipulate G-d?

There seems to be a very fine line between manipulation and persuasion. Manipulation is generally perceived in a negative light whereas persuasion can sometimes be viewed in a positive, or at least neutral, way. However, both involve convincing someone of something. Ultimately, what is the difference between manipulation and persuasion? Manipulation involves deliberately attempting to affect a person’s ability to make the decision you think is right.
You shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart, therefore, and be no more stiff necked.For HaShem, your God, is G-d of gods and the Lord of the lords, the great mighty and awesome God, Who will show no favor, nor will He take a bribe. (Deut. 10:16-17)What is the connection between these two verses and what function does the word “for” (at the beginning of the second verse) serve? It appears that the reason we need to circumciseour hearts-i.e. get rid of the blockage-is because G-d doesn’t show favoritism or accept bribery.
Each of us has unique struggles in how we relate to G-d. Some people are agnostic, they’re not sure if they believe in G-d but look for meaning during challenging times and are frustrated when they don’t find it in the nihilism of a purely secular philosophy. Others believe in G-d, but don’t really trust Him. Some people place their trust in G-d but due to the vicissitudes and challenges in their lives, they have theological struggles. These struggles affect not only the way we relate to G-d, but also how we relate to the people in our lives. According to the verse above, the way to overcome those struggles is to be willing to go through the process of “circumcision” of the heart. That means my heart and brain have to be in sync. When I make a decision-e.g. ordering tacos and burritos at 2am because I’m bored and can’t sleep, I feel like (heart) eating but I know (brain) that I will pay the price in the morning with lethargy and indigestion. If my child, parent, or spouse frustrates me, I resort to my default (heart), which is being sarcastic and demeaning, even though I know (brain) that this tactic has never led to anything positive; to the contrary, it always sets things back. I convince myself (heart) that I really do need to eat or that I need to put the person in his or her place, it’s for their own good, but this is the lie of cognitive dissonance. Dissonance is a musical term describing the lack of harmony among musical notes; when we have a lack of harmony between what we know (brain) and what we want the reality to be (heart), we simply talk ourselves into something we’re comfortable with. When this doesn’t work, some people make another, different, fatal mistake.
There’s a trap into which we all have the potential to fall. It happens when someone gets ill or suffers from some other hardship. At that point, we begin to make deals with G-d. We focus on our good deeds and tell ourselves that with all the good deeds we perform, G-d will overlook me as an individual and my character defects. The verses above inform us that this will not work. We can’t bribe our way past our flaws with a few good deeds. Furthermore, it could be that the issues with which we struggle may be the very reason why we have been put on this earth. We need to go through these challenges and hard times- it may be our mission in life and the other good deeds, the one’s we use to try to manipulate G-d, can’t serve as a bribe in their place.
The Almighty is omniscient and obviously cannot be manipulated. But that doesn’t stop us from trying. We convince ourselves that we can take shortcuts and compensate for our flaws with good deeds. G-d can’t be manipulated, but He can be persuaded, and that is the concept of teshuva, returning to your true self-being the person you want to be-and that begins with “circumcising” our hearts. When we face ourselves and are willing to go through the pain involved in removing our character defects, then we are convincing G-d, and ourselves, that we really are deserving and we are doing so from a position of truth, not falsehood.
We are a week away from the Hebrew month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah. We will soon be in the season of asking for forgiveness, life, livelihood, and good health. Let’s identify our personal struggles and deal with them directly rather than convince ourselves that they don’t exist. Let’s avoid the attempt to manipulate G-d into giving us a pass even though we don’t offer Him back anything in return. This way of thinking, asking for a free pass without committing to give something back, doesn’t work in human relationships and it certainly doesn’t work with G-d. Getting real and not trying to manipulate G-d and the people in your life isn’t merely a religious formula, it’s a way of life for the person who knows that deception and insincere shortcuts will not bring us the contentment and peace of mind we all desire.  
Good Shabbos 
(Adapted from Tiferes Shlomo by Rebbi Shlomo Hakohen Rabinowitz (1801-1866), founder of the Radomsk Chassidic Dynasty)
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 Good Shabbos
Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center