In this week’s Torah portion, what G-d is really telling us, is that our job, our only job is to connect with God, and in so doing, we will be connected with our truest, deepest selves.
Oblivious to her surroundings (a boarding area in the Philly airport), the woman seated across from me loudly informed her husband in clear and unmistakable terms, exactly what his role in their relationship was. “Your job is to make me happy.” “Your only job,” she continued, adding a little oomph to the directive, “is to make me happy. It is not my job to make you happy.”
Judging by the blank look on the husband’s non reactive face and his utter lack of acknowledgement that she was even speaking, I surmised this was not a newsflash to him. And by the looks of their worn-out elderly faces, I imagined he had heard this hundreds of times for decades.
With the hundreds of commandments given to us in the Torah, which seemingly regulate our every move, all given to us ostensibly in order to serve G-d, one could conclude that G-d’s essential message to the Jewish could sound like this: “Listen up people. Your job is to make Me happy. Your only job is to make Me happy. It is not My job to make you happy.” One could kinda get that feeling – right? It’s not that much of a stretch.
Previously in the storyline, we did the sin of the Golden Calf (not good). But then we were forgiven and we faithfully built the Tabernacle (good), which became the vehicle for the Divine Presence of G-d to connect with the Jewish people (really good). But now, in this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, G-d is instructing Moses about the sacrificial offerings that the Jewish people will have to bring to atone for their sins – their future sins. The ones they haven’t committed – yet.
Wait a minute. This seems rather disaffirming, doesn’t it? Imagine getting married and before you even check into your hotel on your honeymoon, you have to sit down for a lecture on conflict resolution, fair fighting and how to appease your spouse?
Things were just getting back on track. Couldn’t we, as the Jewish people, just relax and enjoy our honeymoon with G-d for at least a little while before being told about how we should atone for our sins – our future sins, that is? Does G-d really have to rub in the fact that making mistakes is inevitable? Did G-d really have to “ruin the moment” with this “buzz-kill”?
The simple truth. Here it comes. You – and every other person on the planet – make mistakes, and you will continue to make mistakes until you are dead, or lack capacity to act. Making mistakes is simply wired into the very mechanism of creation. So here’s another simple truth. You “make” mistakes, but you do not “become” a mistake. You are not a mistake. And that’s what this week’s Torah portion is all about.
There is a curious phrase in the Torah, when G-d tells Adam not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. The command ends this way: “For on the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” Wait a minute. It’s not an “if” – it’s a “when”. So G-d was already telling Adam the consequence of breaking this commandment, as if it were a foregone conclusion?
Isn’t that a little strange? If you want to keep a kid out of a cookie jar, you lay out the rule: “Don’t eat any cookies before dinner.” If you want to be extra stern, you might add, “If you eat a cookie before dinner, then no dessert for you.” You wouldn’t say, “Don’t eat any cookies because when you do….” You want a kid to think it’s at least theoretically possible he won’t transgress.
To interpret this, however, as a divine set-up, or man’s inevitable failure, or even the lack of free will, would be an erroneous conclusion. What G-d was doing, rather, was laying out the process of growth, and teaching us about the “right of repair”. Marriage expert John Gottman often talks about how a key factor in protecting marriages against divorce is for couples to learn the art of the repair attempt, because it stops negativity from escalating, and it corrects a couple from heading off course.
So too, the laws of the sacrifices gave us a way to process mistakes, to correct and rectify ourselves so that we could repair and restore our connection with G-d. We needed to know that from the onset, or else we could get lost in self-condemnation, blame and shame. Otherwise we could hyper-focus on our mistakes, and think we are beyond repair, which leads to disconnection. Or we could focus our anger outwards and get caught in a downward negativity spiral.
And that kind of truth, that amazing gift, can’t wait to be told. G-d was telling us something about fundamental human nature and relationships. We needed to understand that we are not perfect and that we will certainly make mistakes – but the relationship will endure nevertheless! We need to be able to take risks, to be vulnerable and to be authentic, otherwise we can become paralyzed by the constraints of perfectionism, which is a life-crippling syndrome.
In this week’s Torah portion, G-d also instructs us to keep lit an eternal flame. Providing the means to process and metabolize and move through our errors is the vehicle for growth, and it frees us to maintain our connection with that which is eternal – our connection to G-d and to our own inner flame.
What G-d is really telling us, is that our job, our only job is to connect with G-d, and in so doing, we will be connected with our truest, deepest selves. Appreciating the critical difference between making a mistake and being a mistake, and utilizing the “right of repair” will help get you back on track with keeping lit the eternal flame of your soul, and living into your life’s true mission.