Change of Heart

This week, the young granddaughter of a friend of mine had a heart procedure, part of the continuing treatment of a condition with which she was born. Within 36 hours, she was home from the hospital and smiling. While I don’t know the particulars of her medical circumstances, I think it fair to say that had she been born in an earlier  time she might not have survived the challenges she faced in infancy. Certainly, the continuing care would not have had her so quickly back at home and feeling well. God’s mercy is good and we are grateful for His medical messengers.

Working on our own hearts, however, has not become any easier over the generations. Whatever our flaws, be they a tendency to anger, to envy, to vanity, to holding grudges, there has been no advance in technology that allows us to quickly overcome our internal adversaries. The list in the previous sentence could be much longer and each individual’s particular challenge presents in a slightly different way. Not only is there no quick fix for our character flaws, but our hearts and minds rationalize our shortcomings so that even acknowledging the existence of our defects requires real  courage and honesty.

I once had the privilege of being consulted by a wise woman who was facing secondary infertility. Although her first pregnancy and delivery came with stunning simplicity, the years were passing and a much desired second child was not coming. At the same time, she and her husband were contemplating accepting upon themselves a particular religious obligation. She confided to me that she was nervous that, even subconsciously, she might be making a deal with God: I’ll commit to this behavior  for You  and in return You will give me another child. If God didn’t keep His end of the deal, she might distance herself from Him and resent the observance. Only once she had  worked on herself to separate her prayerful pleas from her commitment to religious growth did she and her husband incorporate this new practice into their lives.

While this couple did indeed welcome a new child within the year, they were correct in recognizing that we don’t make quid-pro-quo deals with God. We can only commit to what we will do, not to His response. This idea was tragically illustrated when, in 2014, three Israeli teenage boys didn’t arrive home when expected. Their kidnapping (by a Hamas-inspired Palestinian) galvanized the Jewish community (among others) around the world. The eighteen days until the boys’ mutilated bodies were found sparked hundreds of thousands of heartfelt prayers and many commitments to good deeds. Speaking of that time, Racheli Frankel, the mother of one of the boys said,

“I thought that prayer had a lot of power to it, but it doesn’t work like an ATM. You don’t press buttons and get results. G-d isn’t my employee. I told my children, ‘We will pray, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu [God]  will act in accordance with His will.’”

Just as we know that God may not respond in the way we wish He would, we also know that He cherishes our growth. We can soften our hearts instead of adamantly defending our right to be hurt, or extend charity and graciousness to others way beyond what we thought we could, or push back in others ways against our often deeply embedded, instinctive way of looking at the world. When we do so, our healing and good spiritual health can be genuine and long-lasting even if we need to work on ourselves for more than 36 hours.



17 thoughts on “Change of Heart”

  1. Stephen Meitzler

    Interesting! Making deals with God. Been there, tried to do that. It doesn’t work – except: First of all He spoke to me, “Draw nigh to Me and I’ll draw nigh to You.” This followed perhaps a half hour of pleading with Him. It’s a paraphrase of James 4:8 except it’s in the first person. He was doing the speaking. Then 10 weeks later instead of “thinking” my prayer I prayed aloud. An entirely new response from my creator. I’d swear He was talking back! I’ve never gone back to thinking prayer (silent prayer). This was followed by my left hand picking up a NIV as I walked past my easy chair and the Bible falling open to Isaiah 56 then my eyes reading the sub-title: “This is what the Lord says.” I was excited until I got to the last half of verse 2: That’s where He asked me to quit desecrating His Sabbaths (Plural). I understood. But fully 40% of my income came from weekend shows, festivals, etc. “OK, God, Here’s the deal. I’ll give you my business. You run it. If I can’t make it I’ll have to go back to doing weekend shows.” That was nearly 9 years ago now. He’s held up His end of the deal.

  2. So enjoy your columns, Susan. Like the others this one reminds us that we make subliminal deals with ourselves all the time. Living honestly and genuinely bring a long-lasting peace and fulfillment.

    1. Somehow, With all the distractions around us, it’s hard to even find the time to sit quietly and think if we’re being honest with ourselves.

  3. Susan, the temptation to try to “make a deal” with God is very great. I once asked a wise woman about this, saying that I found it hard to resist the thought that before I undertook a particular good deed, or “mitzvah,” I hoped that in some way God would reward me for it. I knew that felt wrong, but I didn’t see a way around it. She told me this was natural, and that after doing these good deeds (mitzvot) often enough, I would be doing them for their own sake and not the hoped-for reward. In my life I have found this to be true.
    On the other hand, we see people from the Torah and sacred books making deals, such as Hannah who told God that he gave her a child, she would give him over to God’s service for the rest of his life, and that seemed to “work” for her. Of course, none of us today are Hannah or anywhere near her level! Thank you for the continuing wisdom you provide in this blog.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Judy. I think there is a difference between promising God that if He does something for us, we will respond in a certain way and the reverse. Hannah’s vow is like the Klausenberger Rabbi vowing to build a hospital if he survived the Holocaust so that others would get the medical help that he did not get when he needed it. We are committing ourselves to a certain action, not God. That’s very different from saying to God, “If I do this, You must do that.”
      Does that make sense?

  4. How true that G_d is not an ATM but acts according to His will and for His glory which is often beyond our understanding. The more I read
    the Bible the more I am humbled.

    1. Ruth, I think it means accepting that “no” can also be a loving answer. This is one of the challenging aspects of becoming mature.

  5. You are such a thoughtful intelligent gracious woman and I enjoy your commentary so very much.

  6. My wife and I have become students of yourself and your husband the rabbi Daniel Lapin.
    There are a multitude of questions that I would like to ask the rabbi in reference to the Scriptures particularly in the Torah. But just one of them would be in reference to Eve giving birth to cane and then making the statement that God had given her a man. If I’ve read your books correctly ancient Jewish wisdom states that what you meant was that God had created a man out of Adam when he became a family man and a father of their first sign Cain. Please refresh me on that particular part of the Scriptures as it refers to my nephew who I have been working with in spiritual matters and family matters. Unfortunately he has went through multiple wives and I feel like God has led me to help him become a better man. I trusted that would lead him To build himself up to the point where God would trust him with a better woman. Please correct me if I’m wrong on that point and refresh my memory on the concept of eve referring to Adam as the man God has gave him versus cane the child who was a mail. Thank you very much for both of your teachings and may God bless you both richly.
    PS my wife and I are business people and maintain between 20 and 30 employees at any given time. I have taught from your books many times in my business meetings. Not only have I had no bad experiences doing that but my employees seem extremely interested in what you have to say. Keep up the good work and God bless you. Bob and Melanie Bates

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Bob and Melanie
      I find myself so cheered and encouraged by your lovely letter that I am particularly chagrined that I am sadly just incapable of answering complex Scriptural questions here. We have created resources for some of the most important ones such as that you inquire about. All answered here:
      Regarding your nephew, I would feel a bit more optimistic if he felt that God was leading him to you for improvement. You may feel called to help him but unless he really wants to change, it will frustrate you.
      I am really thrilled to hear that my work has helped you develop, run and grow your business. That is the idea! If you ever feel the need for customized business guidance for your situation, please do contact me for information on my program for working with mid-size businesses seeking growth and greater revenue.
      With appreciation for your blessings,

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