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Shoftim: Wholeheartedly Mindful

The last few decades have seen a surge in one particular area of mental health and wellness known as mindfulness. Mindfulness has made its way into evidence-based treatments for all sorts of mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, suicidality, and trauma. Mindfulness has catapulted activities like yoga and hiking and objects such as singing bowls and scented candles into unparalleled popularity. Mindfulness is even being taught in elementary school classrooms, and is incorporated into the self-care plans of CEOs, neurosurgeons, and top financiers. While some popular phenomena in Western culture have no basis in or relationship to Torah Judaism, oftentimes society and science tap into ancient Torah wisdom and find a kernel of wonder and truth that they then grow into an entire field of study and activity. Mindfulness is one such gem.

This week’s Parsha features several famous and precious quotes for Jews to live by. One such line comes from the middle of the Parsha (18:13) in which Moshe instructs Klal Yisrael, “Tamim tihiyeh im Hashem elokecha,” - “be wholehearted with Hashem, your God.” Every word in the Torah is of utmost importance, as the Torah does not contain an excess word or even letter. Furthermore, every sentence of the Parshios in Sefer Devarim carries even more weight, as these are the final words of Moshe to his people before his death. With so much at stake, every word counts. What, then, does it mean to be wholehearted with God? Importantly, Moshe does not say, “serve God with all your heart” – although a similar sentiment can be found in the Shema prayer we say each day, the bulk of which is excerpted from elsewhere Sefer Devarim. Rather, Moshe uses what seems to be a vague term, instructing us simply to “be wholehearted,” without specifying exactly what that entails.

To better understand this Mitzvah, Rashi elucidates an important idea. Rashi (18:13) notes that this is a directive to walk with God with wholeheartedness, to look to Him, and not to look into the future to try to figure out what it will bring; rather, we are encouraged to turn to God and accept wholeheartedly whatever is happening in the present moment, and then we will “be with Him, and be His portion.”

Rav Shlomo Wolbe explains that Tamim Tihiyeh, the commandment to be wholehearted with God, is actually an instruction in mindfulness. As per Rashi’s description, someone who approaches God wholeheartedly is focused only on what is being asked of him in that very moment; he is not preoccupied with past deeds or misdeeds, nor is he distracted by the worries and uncertainties of the future. Walking wholeheartedly with God is, as Rashi says, an act of turning to God and accepting His will each moment within that moment alone.

Worry and anxiety often appear in the crosshairs of investigation into the future. Uncertainty about what lies ahead and our desire to know and to control all possible outcomes detracts not only from our peace of mind, but also from our ability to accept God’s will each moment. Acceptance of God’s will is a matter of accepting the moment as it is, without clinging to it, without pushing it away in favor for the next moment. This is what the Jewish people evidenced in their willingness to follow God in the desert, as the Pasuk says, “al pi Hashem yachunu, v’al pi Hashem yi’sau;” Rashi notes that the greatness of Klal Yisrael was that even if they were camped somewhere particularly comfortable for a short period, they did not complain if they had to leave, and if they camped somewhere less ideal for a longer period of time, they similarly did not complain. Acceptance of God’s will each moment is the acceptance of each moment for what it is, and for what it is not.

Rav Chaim Friedlander writes in his sefer Sifsei Chaim (Middos V’Avodas Hashem 2) that Menuchas HaNefesh, peace of mind and freedom from anxiety and worry, is a matter of being in the moment. He explains that a Jew must consider each moment as the only of its kind, and he must look at each page of Gemara he learns as the only page of Gemara that exists, and as his only obligation, for it is his only job in that moment that he is learning it. Li’havdil, Jon Kabat-Zinn, the UMass professor whose name has become synonymous with the mindfulness movement, defines mindfulness as paying attention, on purpose and without judgment, to the present moment.

Tamim Tihiyeh Im Hashem Elokecha is a call to strive for a more mindful relationship with God. At a time of year fraught with thoughts of both the past (how did I mess up this year?) and the future (what do I need to work on?), no time is more appropriate for a reminder to increase our mindfulness, to pay attention to what Hashem wants for us and from us in this present moment, and not to get too caught up in ether the past nor the present. If we are able to attend to the present moment, without judgment, without evaluation, and to accept Hashem’s ratzon in that moment, we will be on our way to achieving wholehearted mindfulness in our Avodas Hashem.

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