Parashat Nisavim- The “Cardiac Jew”
Parashat Nisavim continues Moshe’s warnings to Beneh Yisrael of the consequences of their failure to observe the Torah. After describing in great detail the catastrophes that God would bring upon them if they violate His laws, as we read in Parashat Ki-Tabo, Moshe now expresses concern that some among Beneh Yisrael will ignore his warnings: “Perhaps there is among you a man or woman…whose heart turns away this day from Hashem our God… When he hears these words of curse, he will bless himself in his heart, saying: All will be well with me for I shall follow my heart’s wishes…” (29:17-18).
Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (1873-1961) offers a novel interpretation of this final phrase – “for I shall follow my heart’s desire” (“Ki Bi’shrirut Libi Elech”). The person that Moshe describes in these verses feels he can ignore the detailed laws of the Torah because he “follows his heart” – meaning, he is a good person, with a good heart and a fine character. He is polite, caring and sensitive, he deals honestly with people and treats them kindly. In this person’s mind, that is really all that God demands. God does not really care whether or not he puts on Tallit and Tefillin, and if or when he recites Berachot. Halachic details such as when he must stand or sit during prayer are entirely irrelevant, according to this line of thinking. What’s important is “Sherirut Libi” – having a good heart, being good-natured and kind.
God reacts angrily to this attitude, as Moshe warns in the next verse, “God will not agree to forgive such a person.”
It goes without saying that the Torah demands a good heart. There is no question that we must be honest, courteous, caring and good-natured people, and that if we are not, then all our Misvot are worthless. Good character comes before all else. But we must never think that this is all God wants from us. We are bidden to follow all the laws He commands us, all four sections of the Shulhan Aruch. The Torah does not approve of the “cardiac Jew,” the Jew who has a good heart and feels that this is all that is necessary. A good heart is indispensable but insufficient.
Imagine a CEO who hands his employee a list of twenty tasks that he needs completed by the end of the workday. At 5pm, the employee goes over to his boss to say hello. He very warmly asks how the boss’s day went, how his wife and children are, and shows genuine concern for the boss and his family. He even gives the boss a box full of treats and gifts for his children, and offers to paint his house for him, free of charge, as a kind gesture.
“Thank you, that’s very kind,” the boss replies. “But before we get to that, what about the list of jobs I asked you to do today? Are they done?”
The employee replies that he hadn’t done any of them.
This worker sounds like a very nice man, with a heart of gold, who genuinely cares about people and likes doing favors, but he utterly failed as an employee. The boss certainly appreciates his kindness, but he demands much more – that the employee does what he’s told to do.
Hashem is our boss, and He has given us a list of jobs to do – all the Halachot in the Shulhan Aruch. We cannot pick and choose only those parts of Torah that naturally appeal to us and disregard the rest. We have been given the whole package, and we must always be committed to the whole package, so that God will approve of our “job performance” and continue “paying” us with His blessings.