Julia commited suicide.
Joe stood at the memorial service with a request in memory of his sister
and her struggle with depression and self-recrimination.
"Next time you find yourself looking for a fight," he said,
"next time you lace up those gloves for battle
against yourself, [armed with judgment, anger, and shame],
just stop right there, and turn in the gloves.
Do that for Julia."
I wonder what Joe would say about this week's Torah portion.
“When you go-out [ki teitzei] to battle with your enemies [oyvecha],
and YHWH your God gives it into your hand, you capture its captives, and among the captives
[shivyah] you are captivated by a beautiful woman…” (Deut. 21:10).
The Torah offers us rules of engagement when we prepare to do battle. Through a mussar lens this is a teaching about how to engage our inner oy, our self-imposed oyev [adversary]. The voices in our head, of dismay and delay, distraction and discouragement, that say, “Never mind.” “Whatever.” “Not my fault, you…,” or "it's all my fault," "I'm just a burden," and “I give up.” These narratives, the stories we tell ourselves that keep us stuck or straying, they prevent us from even engaging in the journey – to the Promised Land, to the full revelation of our divine potential.
And the instruction? “Ki Teitzei / When you go out…” Another English rendition of this Hebrew word is ‘exodus’ with its associations of freedom from bondage. One reading of this verse recognizes that victory is granted, that the adversary is placed into our hands under our control, if and when we step outside, outside of ourselves so as to get a broader perspective. “To observe [the thoughts and feelings hindering us], one must be on the outside.” (Getting to Know Your Soul, p. 42)
These weeks of the month of Elul leading up to Rosh Hashanah are punctuated (except on Shabbat) by the shofar’s call for change, movement, reconnection, of returning to our highest soul-states through the power of wind/air/spirit. The Hebrew word for this return is teshuvah. The root שוב / shuv, means, “Return!” Here we are reminded that in order to return we must go out! Step outside of the limited confines of our current view and take in a more expansive truth. Ki Teitzei! When you go out, only then is teshuvah possible. When you step outside yourself, you will be gifted with the space and the freedom from the captivity of your inner adversaries, to breathe and be and see your way back on track.
MIDAH [Virtue/Value]: Emet / Truth and Curiosity. Seek an outsider’s point of view. We've all got blind spots. Broaden the truth of your experience, with multiple points of view. "Hey Joe, how'm I doin'? Honestly, what to you see?"
MITZVAH [Obligation to Other]: “Place a protective fence on your rooftop.” Acknowledge the risk, and make it as safe as possible to step outside, to seek out a ‘higher’ perspective, for yourself and others. And when we act on behalf of another, we've already begun to free ourselves.
AVODAH [Spi-ritual Practice]: Mindfulness meditation. Shev / sit. Sit and watch. Watch and listen. As thoughts come to mind, step outside of them. Be a witness, an outside observer of your own thoughts and feelings. As captivating as they may be, as a fly on the mezuzah (doorpost) free yourself from their dominion simply by standing aside and watching them come and go from your post.