Connection. Empathy. Love.
For human beings, there is simply nothing in the world which is more important. In our lives, we seek this out with a ferocity which is rivalled only by our desire to be alive. In our lifetimes, we will attempt to connect to thousands of people. Some of those connections are viable in the world, lasting connections that jive with the nature of existence. Other connections are destined for failure, begun in a context which ultimately has no possibility for sustainability.
Think about it for a moment. This need for connection is the precise reason that everyone finds it weird to ride on the tube and yet not connect with those around them! People comment on how unusual it is that masses of humans can be together in such a small space, packed together like sardines in a can, and yet not speak to each other! The concept is so antithetical to humanity, to our very nature, that people can’t help but comment and observe.
The Torah uses a very unusual language in this week’s parasha, one normally associated with the miṣva of brit mila – circumcision. The Torah writes, “And the Lord, your God, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, [so that you may] love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, for the sake of your life.”
What a bizarre turn of phrase! God is going to circumcise our heart? Even the metaphoric image is not pretty! What does circumcision have to do with love?
When we can understand the true nature of brit mila however, we see that this is the only appropriate language to use in this context. The miṣva of brit mila is one of vulnerability, of connection. When we use the terminology “circumcise”, what we mean to say is that one opens themselves up to possibility. Rather than hiding behind a magen – a shield – we expose our vulnerabilities to the world in attempt to connect, to love. When one is able to remove the wrappings around his heart, the covering preventing him from connecting to the world around him, when he is able to carefully expose that vulnerability, then he is able to “love the Lord your God”. Conversely, when one is unable to let their guard down and share, the possibilities of real connection are nil.
This point is evident in one’s appreciation of art and music as well. A person who is truly connected to the world is open to relationship from all places; he is able to look at a piece of art, appreciate its beauty, and recognise the author in that very piece, and connect with him. He is able to hear a symphony and recognise the nature of the composer in the music itself.
This then, is the key to connecting with God. Ultimately, the paradigmatic expression of this human need is with the Source and Sustainer of our existence. The Torah is called shirah – song. The parasha relates that Moshe “wrote this song on that day, and taught it to the children of Israel;” the Talmud explains (Sanhedrin 21b) that this refers to the Torah itself. When we can look at the work that is the Torah, that is ma’aseh bereishit – the act of creation – and see within it its Author, who is the Author of existence, we can come to understand and connect to Hashem like never before.