My dear friend is getting married this weekend. It must be a month for love – my sister got married last weekend. My friend’s fiancé is a good guy, worthy of holding her heart in his own. I’m reading Torah for my friend’s “aufruf” (one of my favorite words in Jewish life…like schach and miton’nim, they’re just so much fun to say!) The “aufruf” is usually the Shabbat before the wedding. It’s just a regular Saturday morning service, with a regular Torah reading, but the bride and groom get called up for special blessings just before their wedding. Just another way to celebrate and another opportunity to enjoy their happiness. And, lucky for me, sometimes friends are honored by being asked to chant a portion of the Torah reading.
My friend sent me a list of the texts “open for taking” and asked me which section of this week’s parasha, Eikev, I wanted to read. I picked this one:
“Cut away, therefore, the thickening about your hearts and stiffen your necks no more. For our God is God supreme and Adonai supreme, the great, the mighty, the awesome God, who shows no favor and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause of the fatherless, the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”
Ok, so except for a part there where it was sounding like the Wizard of Oz (the great, the mighty, the awesome….), I love the part about cutting away the thickening around your heart, because it fits my friend’s life-moment perfectly. What does it take to fall in love again, get married again, open yourself up to another person again, look to the future again? Indeed, what brings hope again? After being hurt, after years and years of disappointment, we tend to build layers of protection around our hearts. What a great and awesome thing it is to peel away those protective layers again. It is a task requiring enormous belief and faith.
That’s what prevents us from loving – the layers around our hearts and the stiffness in our necks. The text tells us that it’s not the other person who cuts away the layers; we have to do it ourselves. No one can break through your well-practiced defenses unless you allow for the possibility. “Stiffen your necks no more” – stop being stuck looking at life in the same way, so that your head can’t turn one way or another. Change your perspective to allow for someone else to be in your sightline. If you’re stuck looking at the past, loosen up your neck and turn your gaze toward the future.
I wish my friend and her new husband…my new friend….many years of happiness. May their lives be made of open, unlayered hearts and free-moving necks.