The Torah of the Heart - (Aug 2011)

Parshah Eikev reminds us that we exist because of the “words” of our God. (Deut. 8:3). It also contains the second paragraph of the Sh’ma. It is the section which commands us to lay tefilin and which contains the command:

“Therefore you shall lay up these words in your heart and in your soul.”
(Deut. 11:18)

When we read the scriptures with pauses for meditation or when we meditate in silent prayer ... we are hoping to access the Torah of the Heart. The “heart” is our intuitive intellect. The “soul” is our very life-force. The Torah of the Heart is eternally given in both the “heart” and the “soul” and when we receive it intentionally in both, it simultaneously produces a connecting link between the two. Our perceptions and experiences are thus bound up with our essential soul root...and from there, bound up with our God. In other words: Our obedience to the commands of the Torah is only partial if love and true internalisation are absent.

God speaks to all of us via the written and the oral Torah. He also speaks to us in our own prayers and in our own private meditation. We know how and when we are called to action as a nation and as individuals through the words of the written and oral Torah- but as we each receive that Torah according to our own abilities and character, there is a sense in which our reception of that Torah is incomplete unless we delve deeply into our souls to read those “words” in the Cave of the Heart, alone with our God.

When speaking of the education of children, the Chiddushei Ha-Rim tells us that the words of the Sh’ma are “laid on the surface of the heart” so that they may sink into those hearts which are truly receptive later on. I see this as implying that the “words” can only be truly received when they are reflected upon, acted upon, and internalised personally.

We may observe the “letter” of the Law, but we have not received it until we go beyond that letter to access its “Soul”. This is done most specially in silent contemplative prayer.


I can remember when reel to reel tape-recorders and cassette players were a miraculous novelty. I can remember the invention of the internet and the shock of realising (so recently) that we have wireless and satellite infotech connections of such power and speed that the entire Bible, Talmud, and Shulchan Aruch can be transferred onto disk and printed or viewed in any synagogue or home with sufficient resources. I can watch and listen in amazement as many centuries of Torah commentary and study can be transferred from PC to PC, from personal email to personal email, in seconds.

Living in such an era, the traditional Jewish concepts concerning the transmission and the receiving of the Torah do not seem at all impossible.

Living in such an era, we can perhaps see that Moses may have received the “entire” Torah...including the Torah of the less than a second. --How much he may have been conscious of, or how much of it he understood personally is,I think, another matter!

I  have no difficulty in imagining the “truth” concealed in the ancient tale that we each “knew” that same Torah in the womb, before an angel tapped us so we should forget the Light we had seen- in order to spend all our lives looking for it.

I also have no difficulty in considering that it is possible that, in one moment, our God can infuse our brain or soul with his pure word in a way that is currently (and maybe eternally) beyond our comprehension. But not beyond our reception. Not beyond our experience.

We all stood at Sinai. We all heard the Voice. The Words of the Living God have been laid upon all our hearts.

The “data” which is the “daat” I am loosely referring to here is a bit like having the Talmud or the Chumash on our soul’s hard drive. There may be thousands of “words” we have yet to read, or yet to understand. But they are there for us to click on if we want to. One might even say that just knowing that they are there inside us is an act of “spiritual knowledge” even though we may not realise it on a conscious level.

The Torah which we had seen and known in the womb (and before) was not erased. It remains in our soul’s storage system for us to discover anew....letter by letter, word by word, line by line.

In Psalm 12 we read that:

Imrot HaShem amarot tehorot kesef
ba-alil la’aretz
m’zukak shivatayim

“The words of HaShem are pure words,like pure silver,
Clear to the world, refined seven times.”
Psalm 12:8

Some versions read ba-alil la-aretz as “in an earthly furnace”.

The Words of the Living God are pure.
Too pure for us.
They are, as it were, the derivational root of our words
Or the thoughts before and behind our thoughts.

The “pure words” of God are like refined silver.
In them there is no dross or clouding.
The only “earthly furnace” which can receive them at all
Is the crucible of our hearts.
And in that furnace they are not purified,
For they lack nothing and are perfect.

In the furnace of our hearts what happens
Is that our understanding of them is made possible...
They are made “clear to all the world
-Our World.

Not by the work of explanation, analysis, or philosophy,
But by the three fires
Of Inspiration, of Deveykut, and of Spiritual Intimacy,
In which those “pure words” may be transmuted
Into earthly thoughts and actions.
The first is entirely the work of God;
The second is our own cry for contact with God or  our response to His call;
The  third is the activity arising from the union of our will
with the will of God.

These three "fires" are not necessarily  consecutive,
Nor do they always arise in that order-
-for a spark from one may ignite the others,
and they may just as easily burn simultaneously.
(From a Divine perspective they are all one anyway).

The “silver” flows down like a spiralling river
From the world where it had been pure
And goes through “seven” (many) changes
Before it can be comprehended in any way by us.

The process of refinement is (as it were) being reversed.
So that the pure word can be borne by man.


We may be the type of people who need to discuss our lives with God frequently as though He were at our side. We may be the type of people who prefer to use the texts of prayers written by other people when we want to get closer to Him. Or we may be the kind of people who prefer to discuss His Words in the company of other humans (either in the flesh or through Talmudic study). Or we may be the kind of people who can’t bear to do much of any of them yet find we meet Him most intimately in acts of compassion and charity.

For us, any one or any combination of those “paths” are not only the way a Jew meets God, they are also the way one hears and reads the Torah of the Heart.

But for the Contemplative?
Well, we are those who need- more than anything-to simply turn the receiver on and let God broadcast to us. We may not hear what He is saying in a way that is clear, but we can sense that we are where we are meant to be in His “scheme of things” and that is more than enough.

Standing or sitting or walking in contemplative prayer;
Praying the liturgy;
Performing ritual mitzvot;
In our small way, we are attempting to both study and practice the Torah of the Heart.


In Parshah Eikev and in its Haftarah, we are reminded that we are not alone in this process. As we “study” so God “reads” us. Parshah Ekev refers to both the mitzvah of keriat shema and the mitzvah of tefilin.

As we bind the arm tefilin on our weaker arm,
As we bind the strap seven times around it:
We may choose to remember the “seven times refined silver” of Psalm12.
We may watch as the Pure word “flows through our veins”
As it spirals from the sofer-text in its box
To the hand which is destined to do His Will.
To allow the Word to be transformed into Action.

And we may choose to remember that the box (bayit) containing His Words is placed “on the bicep next to the heart” for a reason. The heart is doing the listening. The text is an intimate whisper, so it pays to get close to the Voice. Sometimes a message can be conveyed better by such a detail than by words.

As we sign His Name on our hand and bind the signs of our mutual betrothal into it,
We may choose to remember that, in Haftarah Ekev, He says:

“Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” 
Isaiah 49:8.

As we are looking at the evidence of His Love in front of our eyes,
He is simultaneously, as it were, looking at His Own “hands” which bear the sign of that same betrothal.
In this particular mitzvah, He looks through our eyes.

As we say the second paragraph of the Sh’ma
We are reminded that His Torah is like flowing water
and that whether it is the dry season or the rainy season
(a time of consolation or a time of spiritual aridity)
We are still promised the rain of His life-giving Words
Both as Yoreh and as Malkosh (Deut11:14)

And where do we lay these words?

“Therefore you shall lay up these words in your heart and in your soul
And you shall bind them for a sign on your hand
And as frontlets before your eyes.”
(Deut. 11:18)

Perhaps as “signs” they can speak to us clearer than words
Perhaps these “signs” are closer to the “Pure Words” of God Himself
than any written or spoken words ever could be.

Perhaps they are laid-up (stored) in the file-system of our “heart and soul”
Because it is only there that we can “hold” All of His Torah.

Aug 16 2011