Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.
–Ursula K. Le Guin
What do we do with a hardened heart?
Tonight was Shavuot – a Jewish holiday where we review the whole Torah, but through new lenses. A quick Google search turns up pictures of wheat fields for Shavuot, which symbolize the Harvest of the land of Israel, the day when the Jewish people were given the 10 Commandments. Buried in the golden symbolism of this holiday lay some deep seeded reflections concerning namely, our hearts. And lately, my heart has been hard.
I used to think love was enough.. that with enough love and good intentions, you could over come any trial or misunderstanding. I used to put more optimism into LOVE than into the doing of the actual “work” in love itself, but as it turns out, you cannot force love. No, “love, like bread, must be made every day” (or like challah, every week if you’re Jewish).
Now it takes a LOT of hard work to even make dough… I mean how many of us have worked the fields, harvested the grain, turned grain into flour? Then there’s the combining of the ingredients, patience for them to rise to just the right combination of measurements and temperatures curated to ensure the bread is even edible. So many factors and variables… and just like in our relationships, we must work at keeping the bread alive, constantly in the home, remaking it anew. A ritual, even!
Now, while man plans… Ingredients change. Oven temperatures may vary, yeast evolves and new recipes are written; all along we adapt our process. Cut corners. Shift in dies and as we get older, our hearts change. Love is always there, but it can hide, even from ourselves. Love does not exist in a vacuum, but rather it is surrounded by forces of nature that ebb and flow, pulling our hearts and minds sometimes in opposite directions sometimes. Unlike mana, there is no exact method or science for why hearts are hardened, or not. Layers build, and callous without constant maintenance.
SO – when I looked at my Torah portion tonight called: Bo, I was reminded of stories of the plagues of Egypt, the anguish, the frustration, the hurt that for years so many people even to this day continue to endure, I asked myself, “what DO we do with hardened hearts?” When people are SO angry that they cannot forgive, forget, or give in, where do we go from there? When Pharaoh hardened his heart for the final three times, what hatred that brought out, what misery? What good came out of that, God? Yes, we may have received the commandments and we will forever forward observe this Passover counting of the Omer culmination in celebration, a mitzvah yes, but not without years of hardship and difficulty. How could anyone’s heart NOT be hardened right now, under these circumstances?
And thus, I must look at what I have learned from my many mistakes made in love, and I find that no matter how hard we try, we cannot force a softened heart. Only that is between God and the heart itself. We can work out our own hearts, showing forgiving our own souls but also, finding grace for who have hardened hearts, even when it may not feel rightfully deserved. The hardening and softening of hearts, that is left to God. And when God is everywhere, as I was taught by my parents, it’s up to each of us to do the work. To take the time. To soften our hearts. To bake the bread new. To knead the truth. To re-read the stories, with fresh lenses so that we can keep gleaning wisdom, even, and especially, when the bread turns stale.
Stale bread … used to be for the birds. But opening and reopening our hearts, that is for our people, and everyday we work it. Love, like bread, can go stale, and can be bought back to life. – you can freshen it up with a little heat, or dry it out and make croutons. Starter yeast has probiotic health benefits, and we learn that even from the sourest of dough, love can grow, into a new culture if we can cut through the tough outer later with knives of justice, in order to enjoy the warm parts. Even when matzah didn’t get the chance to rise, we still ate it up, and made ourselves strong. We keep nourishing ourselves, even when it’s tough, because sometimes love isn’t enough to survive.
In this time of modern day plague and uncertainty, we can be grateful that so many of us even have the time to learn how to bake bread, as well as the time to have had the difficult conversations with our loved ones about how to properly love our neighbors. All the while, continuing to work on our own hearts so that they may be as soft and open as our nature will allow.
Everyday, made new.
“You cannot rescue people from their pain and sadness you can only offer to walk beside them as a fellow kindred spirit” -unknown