How is it possible that we experience the most incredible moments in life without emerging from them completely different people? Human beings can be swept up to the highest highs without allowing their experiences to have any impact on the way in which they move through the world
“וַיָּשֻׁבוּ וַיִּבְכּוּ, גַּם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיֹּאמְרוּ, ‘מִי יַאֲכִלֵנוּ בָּשָׂר'”
“And then the Israelites wept and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat!’” (Numbers 11:4)
Toward the end of this week’s Torah portion, the Children of Israel approach Moshe Rabbeniu with a very strange complaint: “We want meat!” This request is coming from a nation that has been feasting at a spiritual all-you-can-eat buffet for the past few months. After a lifetime of slavery, they witnessed the miracles of the Exodus from Egypt and the Splitting of the Sea, they saw and heard God’s voice on Mount Sinai, and they are being sustained by manna from heaven, a magical food that tastes like anything a person desires. Why couldn’t they simply close their eyes and imagine a juicy steak, cooked to each individual’s idea of perfection?
Through the teachings of the Ishbitzer Rebbe, we learn what Moshe Rabbeinu must have known intuitively. Am Yisrael is asking for so much more than a hamburger. After experiencing the greatest spiritual heights known to man, they come to their leader and cried:
“We’ve been through it all, but we need basar – we need a lev basar, a heart of flesh. We need to learn how to truly feel, how to internalize what’s going on around us, instead of just moving through it and continuing on to the next thing life throws our way.”
Yechezkel prophesied that in the Messianic age, God will replace our lev even – our hearts of stone – with a lev basar – a heart of flesh, a heart that feels.
“וְנָתַתִּ֤י לָכֶם֙ לֵ֣ב חָדָ֔שׁ וְר֥וּחַ חֲדָשָׁ֖ה אֶתֵּ֣ן בְּקִרְבְּכֶ֑ם וַהֲסִ֨רֹתִ֜י אֶת־לֵ֤ב הָאֶ֙בֶן֙ מִבְּשַׂרְכֶ֔ם וְנָתַתִּ֥י לָכֶ֖ם לֵ֥ב בָּשָֽׂר.”
“And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you: I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
As we all know, however, a heart that is open enough to really feel will not only dance with the greatest joys and love the universe has to offer, but will also fall and break with the deepest pain and sadness.
It takes immense courage and vulnerability to peel off the protective layers surrounding our fragile hearts, exposing us to all the highs and lows that make up the rollercoaster that is the human experience on this planet. On an individual level, we all experience moments of overwhelming blessing alongside devastating heartbreak. Perhaps it’s safer, our hearts decide, to limit the extremes on each end for the sake of an easy ride.
On a national level, a brief look at any moment in our long and tumultuous history justifies the obvious need for a rock-hard heart. The events that the Jewish people have experienced in Israel and around the world in the last few weeks are more proof of this than we could ever need.
But with the endless stream of traumatic pictures, videos, and words on social media, it is so much easier to simply click the sad or angry face and keep scrolling than allow ourselves to dwell in the overwhelming emotions that these images may evoke. With the constant flow of news from our phones, televisions, and neighbors, it’s far safer to blame and hate or simply turn it off than to face the questions these stories may provoke.
Because when we have the courage to feel, we feel it all.
We can keep on walking through the greatest events that have ever happened to a people, but until we crack open our hearts of stone, we will not be able to truly experience the blessings God is sending our way. And we will, unfortunately, continue to be bombarded by the worst tragedies known to man, but until we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to truly feel our own pain and that of those around us, nothing will ever change.