Today, it is not a secret that we find ourselves second guessing what we have always held as truth. What we know, what we think we know, is called into question, and sometimes, even doubt, on a near daily basis. What was right yesterday is wrong today, and in truth, who knows what it will be deemed tomorrow. Individual outlooks and emotions, today, seem to “trump” what is normally considered to be the consensus of the majority. We see this happening across the globe and political spectrum. Constructive dialogue has come to a halt not because people differ on opinions, but because people differ on facts and reality. There is a refusal and therefor an inability to listen to, and ideally empathize with the Other. When this happens, it is clear that humans have closed and locked away not only their hearts, but their minds as well from others. When we see this today, at a seemingly increasing rate, we are faced with a question.
We are asked by our societies, by our traditions, and by ourselves, what is truth anyway and how do we foster it again today in our communities?
As Jews, our testament of faith is the Shema. Coming from the book of Deuteronomy, six simple words have summed up the creed of not only Judaism, but in truth of all faiths in the legacy of Abraham. Shema Yisrael Adoni Eloheinu Adoni Echad, Hear o Israel, the LORD is God, the Lord is One. When saying this, of course Jews intend it to be a proclamation of monotheism, however it also means that God is indeed One. God is United. God is Unity. In the ancient Near East, it was a common held belief that the heart, was the seat of intellect, not the brain. So when the Psalmist writes in the eighty sixth Psalm imploring God to, “Teach me Your way, Oh LORD, I will walk in your truth, let my heart be united in reverence for Your name”, what they are saying is when their heart is one, as God is one, then they will be able to walk in God’s truth. What is God’s truth? Unity. It is the indivisibility of not only the Divine, but of our connection with It and with the self and certainly with one another.
When Moses, the greatest prophet of ancient Israel goes before Pharaoh to demand freedom and liberty for his people, the book of Exodus repeatedly says that Pharaohs heart was hardened. In truth, God initially hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and then Pharaoh hardened his own heart on different occasions. By hardening his heart, Pharaoh was not only emotionally turning away from others (although he must certainly did) but he was also intellectually turning away from the needs of others. Pharaoh was himself a god, deified in Egyptian tradition. As a god himself, why bother with mere mortals? They could never comprehend what it was to live and function on the celestial level as Pharaoh himself must have done as a deity among the Egyptian pantheon. He would lead Egypt to greatness, building large structures in and for his own name. Surely, the lowly slave could never fathom what it was like to exist as Pharaoh did, so why should he give a second thought to them? By turning inward, by considering only himself, Pharaoh lived his truth and only his truth and was unable to see that there was indeed truth outside the realm of his own narrowly defined definition of it. There is truth that unites all people and all of creation, and it is, simply, that all people and all of creation are tied together, all that IS is united by our common Source.
Living as Pharaoh did comes at a cost to not only the self, but to others as well. It was especially damaging because as a leader, as one who wields influence and power, one MUST be in tune to the needs of others. By cutting himself off of those around him as well as those he deemed under him, Pharaoh cut himself off from his own self. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, he could not intellectually, let alone emotionally, empathize with those who lived by a seemingly different truth. This is all too apparent to us living in the age of “Alternative Facts”. When we begin questioning the validity of another's experience, solely because we are so sure of our own, it is bound to lead us individually and collectively down an arduous road with an uncertain end.
God, speaking through the prophet Ezekiel declares that, “I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit in them, I will remove the heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh”. This rings true for us today more so than in years past. In a time when many of those in positions of leadership self aggrandize so much so to the point that their outlook becomes the exclusive reality not only for themselves but, they think, for all people, we are truly in need of , as the prophet says, a heart of flesh. A heart that, as the Hebrew Scriptures seem to point out, is open and receptive, not only emotionally to others, but intellectually open to others. We need our hearts to be able to comprehend and become consciously aware of the fact that differing opinions between people does not mean that others live by an altogether different conviction. We all want to achieve fulfillment in life, why do we feel so threatened by the same want when it is present in our neighbors? As long as we continue to defer to Pharaoh, continue allowing his hardened heart to monopolize the definition of who we are, our hearts will remain like his; hardened and uncircumcised as the book of Deuteronomy and later the Epistle to the Romans states. When we soften our hearts, or allow them to be softened by God, we align with what the Divine’s will is for us. We are able to find truth, to walk in truth in unison with our truth along with other’s, as the Psalmist so longed for. “And on that day,” as the prophet Zechariah declared, “God will be one and Gods name will be one.”