Parshat Shoftim: The power of wholeheartedness

Wholeheartedness, the Torah teaches us, is the true key to a life of tranquility and confidence.

Torah reading 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
Torah reading 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
Astrological readings, black cats, reading tea leaves, the number 13, séances, bad luck and more. People have tended to conduct themselves and make decisions on the basis of various omens or the predictions of fortune tellers since the dawn of time. This phenomenon has become even more widespread recently, and widely circulated newspaper publish regular columns that inform naïve readers what is in store for them today or tomorrow and what steps to take in light of these predictions.
A list of characters with supernatural powers who claim to predict the future appears in our Torah portion this week. The Torah denies the validity of each and every one of them: “There should not be found among you, one who practices divination, who divines auspicious times, who divines by omens, who uses incantations, who consults mediums and oracles, or who attempts to communicate with the dead, because anyone who does these things is an abomination to God.”
(Deuteronomy 18:10-12) Many people who consider themselves to be rational try to distance themselves from those who possess “supernatural powers,” who claim that they can predict the future and reveal hidden secrets. But note the term that the Torah uses to describe these alleged phenomena. This goes beyond an expression of reservation, and uses language that is quite sharp: “Anyone who does these things is an abomination to God.”
Why? What is so terrible about these superstitions, even if they have no validity? We find the answer further on in the Torah portion, where we are told how a person should live and act: “Be wholehearted with the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 18:13) And as the great biblical commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, who lived in France about 900 years ago) explains: “Walk with him wholeheartedly, and hope in Him, and do not investigate what will happen in the future, but accept everything that happens to you wholeheartedly.
Then you will be with Him and in His portion.”
Man lives in an unpredictable world. No one knows the future. The riddle of what is going to happen to us occupies the thoughts of all mankind almost constantly. But there are two ways of dealing with this uncertainty: The first way: to try to figure out what is in store and to make exact plans for the future.
This approach is problematic; how can we plan our future if we do not know what is in store for us? To that end, people seek out individuals who have various “powers,” or mystical phenomena that will grant them the tranquility to plan for the future. People often prefer to delude themselves into thinking that they can know the future in order to gain tranquility, calm and confidence, even though in their heart of hearts they know that these are only illusory.
But there is another way of coping: to be wholehearted.
The term “wholeheartedness” has the negative connotation of naivité or innocence, which characterizes those who have not been granted talents that assure their success, or the ability to see things as they really are. But in the Torah we see that this word denotes “completeness.”
The person who does not try to predict the future in essence comes to terms with whatever is in store for him.
He achieves tranquility and a sense of security by realizing that God rules the universe for the best. He has faith that things will turn out properly if he does not attempt to interfere and try to reveal that which is hidden.
It is important to stress: This does not mean taking unnecessary chances in life. An individual should certainly prepare for anything that might happen.
But at the same time, we are required to act wholeheartedly and not to attempt to change that which cannot be changed. When a person can plan his next moves, he should do so. But in situations where he realizes that he is incapable of knowing what the future holds in store for him – he is obligated to trust in God and have faith in Him that He will provide what is best for him.
This sort of trust, this wholeheartedness, does not encourage passivity. The opposite is true; through this kind of behavior a person learns how to grow and become greater in every event and situation. This sort of trust is based on the realization that a person can cope with any situation, and that we can learn to cope in new ways and be successful.
The attempt to divine the future is precisely what does not allow a person to properly cope with new and unfamiliar situations. An individual who is sure what the future holds in store for him stands astounded in the face of a reality that does not match his predictions, and he does not succeed in gathering his inner strength to cope with the vicissitudes of life.
Wholeheartedness, the Torah teaches us, is the true key to a life of tranquility and confidence.
Shmuel Rabinowitz is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.