What Makes us Different?

This week’s portion, Va’etchanan וָאֶתְחַנַּן‎ (and I pleaded), recounts one of the most emotional and profound speeches in history; it is Moshe’s personal message to his beloved nation, Israel. God had allowed him to climb up, to contemplate the land of Israel, but he didn’t only see the physical land; the future of the nation was also revealed to him. So, Moses spoke in a continuous present tense to all the generations of his people; it was not only a message for that generation approximately 3,000 years ago, but it is and will continue to be valid for all generations of our people.

If I had the opportunity to say goodbye to my loved ones, I would really try to impregnate those words that give comfort, strength, wisdom, and intelligence to the current generation and to future generations, but above all I would impregnate a little of myself in them, so that they could develop a full life, a life “filled with life”. This is exactly how I see that Moshe was trying to transmit his essence to future generations to continue living even today, among his people. In any communication process, there are always two characters, the speaker, and the listener. As a child, I suffered attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia, so I had to develop the ability to concentrate on reading, writing and even holding a conversation was a battle until today when I still find it difficult to keep my attention during conversations.

I learned that I had to isolate the sounds, to focus and understand each letter that I read and above all, to look at the person’s mouth or fix on their eyes, which was very difficult in a classroom of 30 children with birds, with rain or many other distractions. For this reason, my classroom punishments were recurrent. Over time, I improved thanks to the Eternal, because in my day, advanced psychology and neuroscience was not as well as developed as today, and the methods of teaching were not focused upon well-being for children.

While reading this portion, I was able to link the commandments that make us different from other peoples and that generate admiration from all humanity. Our Rabbi Yeshua referred to this in Mark 12: 29-31 when he answered a question about the most important of the commandments, saying, “This is the first: ‘Sh’ma Israel Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad, Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God the LORD is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength;’ And the second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” When analyzing his answer, we see that the Ten Commandments are included in these two; the first five, included in the Shema, are from man to God, and the other five commandments are the relationship of man with his neighbor.

Now, I would like to focus on the fact that in Devarim the word “shama” שָׁמַע appears more than 90 times, which in Spanish infers the equivalent of listening, paying attention, hearing, being attentive, being obedient, understanding; it is internalizing the words of the Eternal into our conscious and subconscious. The imperative form of this word, “sh’ma” שְׁמַע, implies action and obedience. Devarim 5:29 and 6:3 tells us the purpose of listening is: “So that it may go well for us and our children”, and this characteristic will make us different in the world as we read in chapter 4 verse 6 “Keep them therefore and do them, for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations who, when they will hear all these statutes shall say: surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” That is why the psalmist wrote in Tehilim 119: 160 “The sum of Your word is truth; and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.”

As I pondered it, I reminded myself of how difficult it was for me to focus, and I thought, does this attention deficit exist in the spiritual world as well? According to the Kabbalists, the physical world is a mirror of the spiritual world.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) affects humans in their ability to pay close attention, control hyperactivity – impulsive behaviors (acting without thinking). Although it is true, I wouldn’t like to give a class on this type of disorder, it seems important to me that its origins can be biological referring to our Genetics, or externals (from things such as brain injuries, exposure to environmental hazards, alcohol-drug consumption during pregnancy, premature delivery, or low birth weight). The associated behaviors are a lot of daydreaming, not living the present reality, quite often forgetting, or losing things, talking too much (not being good at listening), making careless mistakes or taking unnecessary risks, having a hard time resisting temptation, having trouble taking orders, having difficulty getting along with others. According to current medicine, there is no “cure” for this type of disorder and depending on its level, we can learn to live with it, as I have done until today.[1]

Back to the words that Moshe repeats continuously, I perceive that today’s world lives with a spiritual ADHD, since the symptoms of this type of disorder are present in Israel to whom he addressed his words as well as in the modern world. Allow me to expand on this idea: We frequently forget His commandments. Unlike ADHD, which is involuntary, we often omit them with the intention of forgetting them. Why? Because we don’t want to live with the guilt or pain which are consequences of our disobedience.

We live in a fantasy world. This week at home, I observed that there are times of the day when we have 5 screens on and only our dog is connected to us. I decided to put an end to it, to reconnect. Families today live in their fantasies, apart from reality, trying to live a life that they cannot sustain (living by appearance) physically, economically, psychologically, or socially. How many people live a lie every day because they don’t want to face themselves?

Spiritual or soul injuries. Much of our spiritual deficit have left us injured from past experiences such as sadness, hatred, resentment, unforgiveness, anger, distrust, apathy, frustration, worthlessness, among so many other things.

Exposure to environmental toxins. We live it daily in what the TV, Internet, social networks, radio, advertisements, and newspapers bombard us with ideas that go against the Torah and a full life.

Hyperactivity: I would call this “being overly eager”.  Our Rabbi Yeshua said in Matthew 6:34 “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own””. We become unnecessarily preoccupated before things happen and this generates stress. It causes us to act senselessly, making us unable to meditate or stay quiet even for a minute. Behind this desire, there is only a void in the heart, which we try to fill by being busy. Let’s meditate! As Psalms 119: 97 says “O how I love your Torah! It is my meditation all day. Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies: for they are always with me.”

Vices: although it is true that we can talk about drugs and alcohol, addictions to chemical substances, there are also other vices today that are far more subtle and apparently innocent such as dependence upon social networks, the cell phone, video games, internet, sex, eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, impulsive eating, there’s religion, codependent relationships, games of chance where we perform a high stimulation of the mesolimbic dopamine system.

Impulsive behavior: our Rabbi Netanel Ben Yochanan always invited us to think before acting, to think for ourselves (to come to our own conclusions) and learn from others. Thinking costs a lot when we become slaves of our SELF or our impulses (Yetzer Harah or our “evil” inclination which is necessary and not always bad or our Yetzer Tov or our good inclination that is not always good).

It seems to me that no human being will be able to eliminate his humanity or this spiritual attention deficit, but we can learn to live with it, if we only pay close attention to His Words. One of my favorite verses of the Torah are read in this portion, giving me much consolation because we can learn to improve ourselves in life. It says in chapter 4:27-31 “And the LORD shall scatter you among the peoples, and you shall be left few in number among the nations, where the LORD will lead you away. And there you shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood, and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. But from there you will seek the LORD your God; and you shall find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and with all your soul. In your distress, when all these things are come upon you, in the end of days, you shall return to the LORD your God, and listen to His voice, for the LORD your God is a merciful God; He will not fail you, neither destroy you, nor will He forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them.” And if we connect this portion with what the prophet Isaiah says in our Haftarah portion in Isaiah 40:1 ” Comfort, comfort My people, says your God,”we will realize that God only wants us to live a full life, a fruitful life and full of good.

Are we willing to listen (to obey with actions) the Eternal? Are we willing to be different?    

Shabbat Shalom!   

Sr. Mauricio Quintero

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/spanish/adhd/diagnosis.html American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition. Arlington, VA., American Psychiatric Association, 2013.