In light of the recent violence on the national scene, Federation asked the rabbis of Greater Metrowest New Jersey to provide their latest divrei torah, drashot, or other insights on the situation. The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent those held by Federation. Dialogue and debate are positive and necessary methods to promote change. As such, we hope you can find comfort and guidance in the words of our spiritual leaders.
I’ve been thinking about the human heart for quite a few days. Last week, for the first time in my life, I was hospitalized to have heart surgery to repair a failed valve. I marvel at the skill of the surgeons who operated on me, at the compassion of the nurses who took care of me, and at the medical care I received, arguably the finest in the world. The days since my surgery have been a time of physical healing for me and I hope and pray that they will lead to an even deeper appreciation for the gift of life itself.
The human heart is a thing of wonder. Even when impaired it can pump blood through the body supplying needed oxygen. The valve in my heart that was repaired is an organ of beautiful design. Leaflets secured by rubber band like strings gracefully open and shut like the wings of a stingray gliding through the water. The experience of surgery can deepen one’s awareness of the intricacy and marvel of the human body. “Ma Rabu Ma’asecha Ya…M’od Amku Machsh’votecha…How vast are your designs, God…how deep and profound are your thoughts and plans,” the Psalms tell us. This experience has deepened within me an appreciation for the creative powers of the Sovereign of the Universe. I do not claim to understand God, nor am I able to explain the essence of God. But I am humbled by the mystery and beauty of the human body and its creator.
Our tradition also tells us that the human heart is a thing of wonder. In the Bible and Rabbinic Literature, the heart is a symbol for numerous aspects of human existence, including intellect, conscience, spirituality, courage. We refer to prayer as “Avodat Ha-Lev…the service of the heart.” Pirkei Avot declares that a “good heart” is the description of a person who embraces noble acts and behaves ethically. In Genesis, we read that “God said to his heart,” meaning that God made a decision or a declaration, and in Exodus God “changes Pharaoh’s heart” about releasing the Israelites slaves, meaning that he changed Pharaoh’s mind and plans.
The human heart is a thing of wonder. It represents our ability to act ethically, to identify our conscience and do what is right, to make good decisions that are based on reason and fairness, and to express compassion and understanding.
I’ve been thinking about the human heart in recent days, not only because of my surgery but because of the awful events that have taken place in our country. The shooting of Philando Castile in Minnesota and of Alton Sterling in Louisiana have left us shocked and dismayed. And the hate filled, racially motivated killing of five Dallas police officers—Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Patrick Zamirripa, Michael Krol and Brent Thompson—is simply unspeakable. How are we to address such sadness and strife?
It seems to me that the human heart calls forth from us a multi-faceted response. Just as the heart represents our capacity to act ethically, to behave with a sense of conscience and do what is right, to make good decisions that are based on reason and fairness, and to express compassion and understanding, so must we approach the issue of the terrible racial divide in our country and the scourge of gun violence with the same attributes. We ought to feel outrage that gun violence continues to plague our nation. We must feel compassion and empathy for those who have suffered painful losses, for the families who have been forced to say goodbye to loved ones before any goodbye should need to be expressed. And we must act in measured, thoughtful and reasonable ways to make a difference. May we all summon these qualities each day of our lives.
I urge you to sign the “Not In Our Towns” pledge against racism, bigotry and injustice with an open heart of compassion, understanding and conscience. Our words, our pledge, is a place to start to create a heart of wonder.
--Rabbi Mark Cooper
Oheb Shalom Congregation
South Orange, NJ