Updated: Jul 13
Mindfully S-T-O-P: Creating a Mindful Space to Choose and Parsaht Re'eh
In this week’s Torah portion Re’eh, we are given two paths to choose from: a blessing and a curse. We have free will to choose. If we follow the commandments (mitzvot) we shall be blessed in the Land of Israel. But if we don't, we won't. There is right and there is wrong, and according to what we learn in this Torah portion, things such as eating the blood of an animal, human sacrifices, sexual immorality, following false prophets, and not releasing slaves are just a few of the things that are forbidden and lead to a corrupt society without blessings.
Free will in Judaism is the capacity to choose between different courses of actions, words, or thoughts; a choice between right and wrong.
This idea that human beings can exercise their own free will when making moral decisions is key in Judaism.
In Judaism we believe that we need not despair because as low as a person has fallen, he can always turn around and fix his mistake. G‑d is compassionate--he forgives transgressions, and He shows patience. Human beings have the capacity to change.
Change is possible when you have free will, but the ability to turn yourself around can come only from within you.
Back to our Torah portion—to help us understand the blessings and the curses, the Torah mentions two mountains– Gerizim “the mountain of the blessing”, and Ebal the “mountain of the curse”. As Moses commands the people: Six tribes stood on Gerizim and six on Ebal. The Kohanim turned to Gerizim and proclaimed: “Blessed is he who keeps…” and continued to single out each individual mitzvah (commandment) the nation is instructed to perform, and the people answered “Amen.” Then the Kohanim turned to Ebal and proclaimed: “Cursed is he who…” and enumerated the Torah's prohibitions.
Two mountains of equal elevation, and on each mountain an equal number of tribes.
According to Rabbi Nachman Kahana, the two mountains reflect an important lesson – that the world is a duality. On the one side, morality; on the other, evil and sin.
We are also divided– between the yetzer hatov and yetzer harah, the instinct for good vs the instinct to do evil.
The good and beauty of Har Gerizim within us vs the evil and barren Har Ebal.
What can help us when making a choice or deciding how to proceed ?
There is a mindfulness practice that can help us to pause before we react or make a decision.
It’s called the STOP practice and can take just a couple of minutes.
First, there is
S = Stop
Stop what you’re doing; put things down for a minute.
T = Take a breath
Take a few deep breaths. If you’d like to extend this, you can take a minute to breathe normally and naturally and follow your breath coming in and out of your nose.
O = Observe
Observe your experience just as it is—including thoughts, feelings, and emotions. You can reflect on what is on your mind, and also notice that thoughts are not facts. Notice any emotions present and how they’re being expressed in the body. Research shows that just naming your emotions can turn the volume down on the fear circuit in the brain and have a calming effect. Notice your body’s sensations.
P = Proceed
Proceed by continuing without expectation. Let your attention now move around you, sensing how things are right now. Rather than react habitually, you can be curious and open.
You can practice STOP before making a decision, and also just stop during your day to be more present in what you are doing. Get curious about where there are opportunities in the day for you to just STOP—waking up in the morning, taking a shower, before eating a meal, at a stop light, or before sitting down at work.
By taking a moment to stop before we choose, we create a space before we react or decide, and then we can truly exercise our free will and react in ways that are more true to ourselves and healthier for the people around us.
What would it be like in the days, weeks, and months ahead if you started stopping more often?
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