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Mind the Gap: Reacting Mindfully and Parshat Ki Titzei

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Titzei, 74 of the Torah's 613 commandments are mentioned.

A few of the commandments have to do with helping us be more careful in our behaviors and actions, such as dealing with a rebellious son, returning lost property, and building railings on rooftops. Another example is marrying a captive of war.

“If you see a beautiful woman amongst the captives of war and you desire her, and would like to marry her, bring her home and shave her head and cut her nails…and she shall stay in your house for 30 days while she cries for her parents."

How do we understand this? One possibility is that this is a humane gesture to the captive; she is given time to mourn her family and begin to come to terms with her new life.

The rabbis also believe that although the Torah does give in to the 'evil inclination' of the Jewish soldiers and permits them to take women captives as wives, it really prefers that this doesn't happen.

The Ramban explains that this is only a case where he isn't just interested or attracted to her, but in fact where his desires overcome him. And so the Torah recommends these mourning customs, which are meant to make the woman unattractive to her Jewish captor and convince him to forget the whole thing, not marry her, and let her go. Her sitting in his house, crying, with a shaved head, no manicure, dressed in mourning for 30 days is meant to present a not-so-pretty picture, and, hopefully, the soldier will no longer find her so desirable and will set her free. The commentator Ibn Ezra, says that the Hebrew term יפה תואר means beautiful in his eyes.

If he finds her beautiful he must spend 30 days with her when she is intentionally made unattractive, and then he can get to know her and see her as she really is. Will she remain beautiful in his eyes?

The Torah creates some room or a gap to help reflect before jumping into a big

decision -- marriage.

This past week, I was on vacation and took a train between two cities.

They kept announcing “mind the gap” at each stop before getting on and off the train.

Gaps are easier to manage when we’re aware of them.

The unconscious gaps can get us into trouble.

Viktor Frankl wrote:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”

The width of the gap between stimulus and response, and our freedom to choose, is dependent on our awareness of it. The more conscious we are of the gap, the wider it becomes and the more space we have in how we respond, what we do and how we behave.

By widening the gap — in other words, when we increase our conscious awareness of the fact that we have a choice in our responses to stimuli — we make better choices.

As we all know too well, the pace of life tends to come at us very quickly. The more caught up in life we become, the more we are likely to find ourselves swept up in the daily rhythm and flow, often responding to events and stimuli instantly, with less thought than we would like.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could slow things down a bit and make decisions coming from a place of a little more thought and awareness?

How can we widen the gap and create some space before we react or make decisions? One way is by starting a meditation practice.

Many people don’t try meditation because they believe it’s difficult to practice or is only effective in lengthy sessions. Not true!

Even a shorter meditation can help reduce stress and allow you to react in healthier ways.

Set a timer for five minutes, so you can relax and not worry about how long to stay in the meditation. Schedule a time –make an appt with yourself!

A few tips to help you before you start your meditation:

*To get in the right position to meditate, you can choose to sit on a chair or on the ground. You can also lie down, whatever allows you to be most alert.

Making sure you’re comfortable and your body is supported.

*If you sit in your chair, make sure your back is supported and your feet flat on the floor.

Sit up straight, so that your head and neck are in line with your spine. You may place a pillow behind your lower back or under your hips for added support.

A straight spine straight helps you stay alert .

*You can rest your hands on your thighs with your palms facing down. Keeping your hands placed down is said to be more grounding ,but place your hands wherever it feels comfortable for you.

*Keep your shoulders relaxed and comfortable as you draw them slightly back and down. This helps keep your heart center open and your back strong.

Try to release any tension in your jaw.

*Most people find it easier to meditate with closed eyes. Avoid squeezing your eyes shut. Softly closing them will help you keep your face, eyes, and eyelids relaxed. You can also meditate with your eyes open focusing your gaze on a spot in front of you.

*Try to stay awake. But if you fall asleep, don't give yourself a hard time. We approach this practice, like all practices, in a gentle and non-critical way towards ourselves.

Let's start by taking a breath and leaving behind whatever you were just doing.

Can you hear any sounds around you, feel the air around you, and the temperature?

All these things are part of this moment. You don’t need to do anything but notice them.

Be aware of them (pause).

And now bringing your attention to your breath, and the fact that you're breathing.

You don’t need to do anything about the way you are breathing. You don’t need to breathe deeply.

The way you are breathing is just fine. Just be aware of the breath.

Be aware of breathing in when you’re breathing in, and be aware of breathing out when you’re breathing out. (pause)

Notice where you feel the breath most-- maybe in the nose or nostrils, the throat, the chest as it expands and contracts, or the stomach as it rises and falls. There is no right place, just notice.

Where is your breathing most felt? Let your attention rest on that spot, being curious about the physical sensations of the breath. (pause)

As you breathe in, thinking to yourself, “breathing in” and as you breathe out, thinking

“breathing out” (pause)

From time to time your mind is going to wander. That’s to be expected. That’s what the mind does. So whenever we notice that our mind has gone wandering, we gently bring it back to observing the breath,

If it helps you to focus, try saying to yourself “breathing in “ on the inbreath , and “breathing out” on the outbreath. (pause)

No matter where the mind has gone, whether it’s gotten distracted by thoughts, sounds, feelings, or sensations, gently bringing it back to the physical sensations of the breath……..

“Breathing in, and breathing out…” (pause)

And before we end, noticing how your body feels right now.

You might want to take the time to thank yourself for having taken the time to nourish yourself in this way, strengthening the ability to be fully present with the breath and to every moment and every experience of your life.

And remembering that you always have the breath as your anchor -- to the here and now– and to widen your own gap.


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