Divine Guidance Book Chapter 1

Divine Guidance Chapter 1  - Part II Habituation

Introduction - today we’re going to focus on those mitzvoth that help habituate us to life with God. Perhaps a better way of saying it is we are guided on practices that orient us regularly God-ward in our duty toward God in mindfulness and action. In following them, we help manifest in our habits and ways the directions we considered as foundational in our first session.

We’ll be studying a good bit of Jewish custom and ritual today. A major issue for our discussion will be whether and, if so, how it may be possible for those who don’t follow these practices exactly as prescribed to achieve at least some of the effect of the benefits they are given to provide.

Deuteronomy 6:13     13 The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.

What does it mean to swear only by God’s name? Why is this important?

(It’s another way to exalt God’s name in extremely important and meaningful endeavors. This is another way of saying nothing stands in the position of God. Our word is true, we say, as are God’s existence and position, true. Doing this strengthens our belief in God as well as our belief in His providence over our affairs. It likely strengthens our will to speak or act in a manner pleasing to God, as if our relationship with God depends on it.

This is mostly for occasions in which we are required to swear. It also makes us mindful of God’s presence when we owe our fellows the truth in statements where honesty is of paramount importance.

It must be done carefully since, as we’ll later learn, a false or vain oath is an extremely serious offense.

Deuteronomy 6:7     Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.

Why must we speak of the words, especially of the Shema, which we already studied in our consideration of 6:4?

(Saying, reciting, reading - all this puts us in the habit of using words to speak of the Oneness. Does that matter? How?

Do we not speak words of love and dedication regularly to those we love? It’s more than having a commitment, isn’t it? Part of it is enriched by the saying of certain words, no?

One text says that by saying the words regularly one “takes on oneself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Further, some say the words must be said from the heart directed to God, with thoughts directed away from all other things.)

B. What do you make of the explicit mention of doing so when sitting, walking, lying down, and rising up. Traditionally, this has been read to offer the prayer at set times. What else could it mean?

(Regularly. At different times of the day, while we’re engaged in different sorts of activities, as if to say that our mindfulness/commitment ought to be ongoing and ever-present.)

Deuteronomy 6:7     Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.

What must we do to teach these words to our children, and why is this teaching important?

Why are we reading this again? Maimonides finds another mitzvah there. This time, we’ll look at the first clause.

A. It says to teach these words to our children. Recall from our class last year that children can as well mean disciples, or the youth more broadly, or students of a wide variety of types. But Maimonides sees an obligation ahead of the teaching. What is it?

(Learning, and learning fluently, which is required to teach effectively.)

B. And this time the “words” are given a more expansive meaning than just the Shema mentioned in 6:4. What is that broader meaning, and what do you think about it?

(Here it’s the entire Torah, which is read more broadly by some to include other sacred text. Studying and teaching the word of God is essential to maintaining our relationship with God and honoring and following the foundational commitments we discussed in the first lesson. In what ways?

How can we best be what God expects without a deep learning of those expectations and how to meet them? And how can we effectively be priests and a holy nation, with the goal, among others, of propagating God’s word and sovereignty, without doing this?

Profound and wonderful scholars and people have been inspired and worked hard to grasp these words and explain them. Studying them, their work, and thinking out our own understandings from the study enhances even further our own knowledge and wisdom. And, then, our teaching of it helps others.

In this tradition, this is one of the highest and most important forms of religious practice. The avid student and teacher are called many things in the literature, including beloved of God, lover of God, friend, saintly, upright, faithful, brought nearer to virtue, like a never-failing spring, and on and on!

Be a student and a teacher of God’s word!

Deuteronomy 6:8    Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead

What meaning is there in the rituals involving wrappings of the hand, arm, and forehead?

This has been interpreted in traditional Judaism to instruct as to wearing phylacteries of the head and the arm (tefillin). Ritually, this places a small leather case made in a specific way on the forehead containing certain verses from Torah, as does that on the arm directly opposite the heart, wound in a certain way around the arm, and covered with letters that are part of the word, Shaddai, signifying God. So, in a way they position in front of the eyes and against the brain and the heart.  

Hosea 2:19-20     19 I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. 20 I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord

These verses are read when the wrapping of the tefillin is completed. The verses include the Shema, God’s salvation, our duties to God, and God’s blessing. These are worn during the morning prayers principally now by traditional Jews.

A. Many Jews and all Christians do not physically perform these rituals. But let me ask this: what do they teach us, and are there habits they represent that we might incorporate in some way in our lives?

(The placing of God’s word on our heart and mind, and eyes and hand and arm (the seats of faculties and senses and passions and emotions as well as our “acting” limbs) makes a powerful statement. We are saying that we subject our physical nature, including our intellect, and desires to service (subservience) not just to the spiritual, but also, mostly and crucially to God and God’s word. We try to subject the animal in us to the divine, no? And we do so, cognizant of God’s saving hand and blessing of us.

This seems to recognize and give support to the soul, which lives inside of us, but is subject to the powerful physical urges of the body in which it is housed. We help it against “its neighbors,” so to speak. We speak back to our urges not to stray, not to oppress, not to follow bad inclinations of the mind or heart.)

B. What do you make of the verses in Hosea?

(This language has the feel of bonding or re-bonding, as if in marriage. And the terms are those key qualities we’ve discussed so often - tzedek, mishpat, and chesed (righteousness, justice, loving kindness) and faithfulness/emun. It’s as if this ritual re-dedicates one to the covenant.)

C. Could we achieve these aims in prayer, worship, contemplation, prayer, in moments of decision in our lives by being mindful of our thoughts, emotions, and actions and directing them to be subservient to God’s will? How do we internalize these disciplines and ways? What are our reminders/guards/angels?

 Numbers 15:38     38 Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner.

We talked about this mitzvah when we encountered it in Numbers. This is traditionally done by wearing a tallit with fringes on the four corners of the shawl or the garment worn, and at different times of the day, mainly in worship, but by some throughout the day. The blue of the thread has been lost, though we should know that it resembled the sea, which resembles heaven, which resembles the Throne of Glory. There are other numbers in the weaving and the counts that lead us to awareness of God and service through the mitzvoth.  So, in a sense, it is a sort of seal of the Master.

The purpose is always to remind us of our duty to follow God’s instructions.

A. Do we need a reminder? If the answer is yes but not this, what and how?

B. And why fringes? Thoughts?

(I like the idea, as we discussed, that we are to be mindful of the fringes of our society, indeed of ourselves. Just as we are reminded to follow God broadly, we’re specifically reminded to carry out God’s expectations as our self begins to approach others’ selves and as our close community touches out beyond itself to the fringe and beyond.)

B. And why fringes? Thoughts?

(I like the idea, as we discussed, that we are to be mindful of the fringes of our society, indeed of ourselves. Just as we are reminded to follow God broadly, we’re specifically reminded to carry out God’s expectations as our self begins to approach others’ selves and as our close community touches out beyond itself to the fringe and beyond.)

Deuteronomy 6:9     and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

What value is there in putting words of the Bible on the doorposts of the house?

The mezuzah, typically a lovely container with parchment containing two pieces of Torah text, is affixed to the doorposts of the house. The text verses allude to the One God and our duties to hearken to Him.

A. What is the specific purpose of this ritual? Why and how might it provide value?

(When we enter or exit our home, we remind ourselves of God’s presence. We are to be mindful that our actions should be guided by Divine Instruction. We take a moment to ready ourselves to living in God’s way in the special place we call home, which we aspire to extend out into the world where we might live more broadly as if it were home.)

B. What is so important about the home?

(It can be a sanctuary where we give our family, friends, and guests a constantly remembered and practiced reverence and commitment to Gods expectations. There is a special sense of the importance of hospitality. There is a tendency to be callous or easy with relatives that this reminder may arouse us to avoid.)

Deuteronomy 31:19     19 Now therefore write this song, and teach it to the Israelites; put it in their mouths, in order that this song may be a witness for me against the Israelites.

Deuteronomy 17:18     18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests.

Why would God want the king to write a scroll of the Torah himself?

A. What does it mean that the king must write a scroll of Torah himself, and what effect could it have on the king and his subjects, too?

(The dedication and the work it takes to write all this text down surely must have the effect of showing the king that he, too, must be subject to the great Sovereign. Further, it teaches him the standards by which he is to lead and the people are to live.

The direction of the text so often goes against the mere interests of power and rather toward the fundamental virtues of justice, righteousness, mercy, and loving kindness. The Torah teaches in so many profound and numerous ways to guard against the bloated self, against serving the interests of the self, and instead in favor of living within the discipline of God’s mitzvoth. These ought to be the governing principles of the leader rather than those of self-interest, which, in history, too often have been the driving motivation of most leaders.

B. Why would there be a mitzvah directing each person to write his/her own scroll?

(In pondering that question, I think of all the time we’ve studied Torah together. While we haven’t literally written a full scroll, we’ve read it together, we’ve written lesson plans, handouts, notes; we’ve posted all this and more; we’ve spoken the words; and, perhaps, mostly, we’ve put a lot of these words that we’ve read, written, and spoken on our hearts and on our hands. For, in the end, isn’t that the most meaningful way to write the scroll in the spirit of this mitzvah: by deploying them regularly in what we believe and what we do in our lives?)

Deuteronomy 8:10          10 You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.

This blessing, praise of God after a meal, is one of the most prominent benedictions in Torah. There are many prayers (so many!) in rabbinic and other texts, virtually a prayer for every phase of life. These blessings are intended for us to acknowledge God, praise Him, and attribute our blessings to God. But, why is this one so prominent in Torah itself?

(It makes us mindful of, and grateful for, the many blessings God has bestowed upon us in life and sustaining life. What blessing matters more to sustaining life than the gift of food that nourishes our bodies, satisfies us, and keeps us alive? Indeed what life-supporting gift could we also take more for granted than food, a commodity that we can think comes our way wholly through our own work and/or purchase? (By the way, the sages also prescribe a blessing before eating.)

The gift from God of our lives, our energy and capacity, and all that sustains it should remembered and acknowledged each time our bodies are restored in these ways.)


Let’s try to recall all the times and circumstances in which we in some fashion acknowledge God and our gratitude and/ or duty toward God. Once the list is built, ask: what do we draw from that long list?

(Is one takeaway that we should always, or at least as much as we possibly can, have this attitude/gratitude toward God? This is not meant as a substitute for all the times on the list, but instead as a conclusion to be drawn from the amalgam of them all.)

Be careful what you think, because what you think you will say.

Be careful what you say, because what you say you will do.

Be careful what you do, because that will become your habit.

Be careful about what your habits are, because that will be your destiny.    

Relationship with God - Part II   (Habituation)

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