Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)A Watershed Moment for an IDF Mom

When the Jewish people would come into the Land is Israel, they are told not to engage in one of the most common activities of the gentile nations of the time—witchcraft.
Whoever does these things is an abomination to G-d…Walk with a pure heart with HaShem, your G-d. (Deut. 18: 12-13)
Although we don’t find too many Jews today being attracted to witchcraft, speaking with the dead, and divining the future, back then people were attracted to the use of these mediums to know what impending events would come into their lives. The desire to know the future is so strong that the Jews of that time needed to be warned to stay away from it. G-d rescued them from slavery in Egypt, had kept them alive for forty years in a desert, and would help them to be victorious in settling the land He had promised them. Instead of living with the fear of what the future would bring, they were told to have a pure heart and trust in the One who had been with them time and time again.
The Chassidic Master, Rebbi Pinchas of Koretz observes that avoiding witchcraft is the only mitzvah or Jewish observance that needs to be done “with…your G-d.” Well, almost; there is one exception; when speaking about humility, the verse says to “walk humbly with your G-d.” (Micah 6:8) What is unique about having a pure heart by trusting G-d and being humble that makes it an imperative to observe them “with G-d?” The answer is that it is easy to deceive people that we have these attributes.
Without much effort, one can appear to be pure hearted or humble even if distrust or arrogance fills the person’s heart. Some people can create the facade of being pure and having the best intentions, but beneath the veneer, they are deceitful and cynical. The joke is told about the President of the synagogue who says, “I seek no honor or compensation; I’m doing this all for the community—but I don’t mind a bit of recognition now and then.” Some people assure us that they have the best intentions, and are doing it for G-d, the community, and the Jewish people but when you do, indeed, believe them and grant them a minimal amount of honor, as per the image they had presented,  they go home in rage, never to forgive you for not appreciating all their work for purely ‘altruistic’ reasons.
 How does one ever know if a person is putting on a façade or if it is real? The answer is found in the verses above. “Your G-d” knows; you can’t fool Him. We see only the surface but the Almighty sees into our hearts and souls. 
So, says Rebbi Pinchas of Koretz, there is only one litmus test to know whether a person has a pure and trusting heart and is modest—it must be that (s)he does it “with G-d.” Deception only goes so far; we are easily fooled.
An Israeli woman once told us that her son had worked out for a year and a half so that he would be accepted into an elite unit in the IDF (Israeli army). He didn’t make the cut and his mother was upset with the army and also with her son. She attended a Torah class that night and one of the topics discussed was the need to look deeply into the motivations behind our actions and emotions. She had a flash of insight: she had anticipated the bragging rights coming to her as the mother of a boy accepted into an elite unit. Her anger at the army and her son were rooted in ego. Things didn’t proceed as planned—i.e., as she had planned. Once she realized the egocentric nature of her thoughts, she was able to be present for her son, who was in desperate need of validation and emotional support. 
We don’t know what the future will bring but we do have the ability to be honest in determining what triggers us. Instead of living in fear of the future, walk with a pure heart of trust that the Almighty will be with you when you sincerely attempt to your part. You are not a victim of circumstances; you are an intelligent person able to make responsible decisions and not blame others when things don’t go the way you had envisioned.
This is the first week of the Hebrew month of Elul, which means we are less than a month away from Rosh Hashanah. I don’t think any of us have had a more unexpected year than this one. Since COVID, it’s as if the carpet has been pulled from under us and the world we once knew no longer exists. Will we have health, a job, and the ability to socialize normally? No one has the answers but we Jews have a method of dealing with this madness. Walk with “your G-d.” As a nation we’ve made it through persecutions and even the Holocaust—we even returned to our homeland after almost to 2000 years. Our existence doesn’t have a logical explanation and we aren’t even looking for one. We don’t know what the new year will bring but we do know how to usher it in—have a true and pure heart and make sure to remain humble. 
Good Shabbos     
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