Our Struggle with Doubt

This week’s Dvar Torah was written by Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D., and published in the San Diego Jewish World.

Photo by Maria Thalassinou on Unsplash

This week’s parasha, Ki Teitzei, which literally meaning, “When you go out…” opens with a description of facing war with enemies.
Maimonides [12th century Spain and Egypt] tells us that 72 mitzvot/ commandments spring from this week’s Torah portion, from weights and measures and collecting debts in a righteous way, to proper ways to divorce, keeping promises, and male garments upon women and women’s garments on men, to returning lost objects, and so many more.
In fact, there are more mitzvot found in this week’s reading than in any other parasha.
Nachmanides [12th century Spain], certainly one of the most psychologically sensitive of the established commentators on the Torah, suggests that this week’s parasha is about war, but the war is with our real enemy, i.e., our internal mindset and “heartset.”
Moving against our nature, especially lifting ourselves beyond our natural impulses and desires, is a struggle, a fight with our “yetzer hara or “evil inclination” [a.k.a. our inclination to selfishness].
The Ramban tells us that this struggle to keep mitzvot is ultimately our method of refining our souls
We read this week (Devarim/Deuteronomy 22:4): Lo tuchal l’hitaleim “You may not hide yourself.”
We cannot improve our world by hiding ourselves away from the world we want to improve.
We cannot remain indifferent, especially in today’s world of increased intolerance, divisiveness, and yes, continuing anti-Semitism.
Indeed, when we hide, it seems Hashem hides from us. We are called upon to do the difficult thing, that which is just, and it is not always easy, of course. But we are not to sit idly by hiding ourselves.
Our world is waiting for us to step forward into it and protect those who are in need. We can create a meaningful difference in the world simply by performing one simple act of compassion after another. Be engaged with others. Meaningfully.
And aren’t we all in need? “When you go out…” suggests that we do go out…and offer a hand to those who are most vulnerable.
But what if self-doubt enters our mind, our thinking, and renders us vulnerable as well?
Towards the end of this week’s reading, we read, “Remember what Amalek did to you in your going out of Egypt; how when you were on your path, he/they surprised you, all the stragglers in your rear, and you were weary and hungry.”
Isn’t this like self-doubt, attacking us when we are least suspecting?
Interestingly, the gematria of the Hebrew letters that spell Amalek is 240, the same value as the Hebrew word for doubt, safek.
We encounter Amalek early on in our passage to the Promised Land, with doubts of how we will eat, doubts about having enough water, etc. Hashem provides our needs however, settling our doubts.
In this week’s reading, we are reminded of our struggle with doubt, even self-doubt, particularly relevant during this Hebrew month of Elul when we are evaluating where we are, who we are, where we’d like to be, and how to overcome our self-doubts as we emerge through our own spiritual wilderness.
This is a unique time of opportunity for us when our emotional access to Hashem is easier. Spirituality more readily surrounds us in this month, and with a bit of honest desire and effort, we can make huge progress in overcoming our own self-doubt.
Approaching Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur provides us a superb opportunity to make amends within ourselves, heal ourselves, and overcome any self-doubt.
It says in the parasha, “…and you were tired and exhausted and did not fear Hashem.”
Why the redundancy of “tired and exhausted”? The Torah doesn’t waste its words or letters.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov tells us that when we pray without intent in our hearts, mumbling our way through, we come to a state he refers to as “soul fatigue.”
The remedy for this spiritual malady is to pray fervently, with more heartfelt intention and mindful focus until you feel a warmth of prayer in your entire body. This revives us, renews our soul and is one key way to rescue ourselves from Amalek.
Our heritage teaches us that we should seek to repair our external relationships with each other as well, during Elul, so that during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we can focus on repairing our relationship with our true Source, Hashem.
The mitzvot enumerated in this week’s Torah portion are mitzvot bein adam l’chavero, mitzvot between people.
Within the coming weeks, we are being asked to return, to do “teshuva,” to restore what is missing, lost, in our lives.
How can we help others restore what they’ve lost, as well?
Consider inviting friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers who may not be attending High Holiday services, who don’t attend a Shabbat meal, to participate with you.
By sharing our heritage with others, in any way with no pressure or judgment, we will have done a great deal in fulfilling the mitzvah of “hashavat aveidah,” of returning the lost object, and overcoming our own yetzer hara.

Shabbat Shalom