Condition of the Heart
In this week’s haftora (selected reading from the prophets), the Prophet speaks of the great merit of trusting in God and conversely the terrible consequences of trusting in man (Jeremiah 17:5-8). In the very next verse, the Prophet declares; “The heart is deceitful above all things.” We are told of the capacity of man to fool themselves and others concerning the true intentions of their hearts.
Rabbi David Kimchi (Radak) explains that the quality of trusting in God is dependent upon the heart. It is relatively easy to put on a show of trusting in God with words and actions but the true trust in God is something that takes place in the deep recesses of our hearts. And the heart is deceptive, only God can truly evaluate the condition of a man’s heart. No one can really know how much a human heart has truly placed its trust in God. It is even difficult to know what is going on in your own heart.
How then can we evaluate our hearts? How can we know where we are holding in our service of God if our sages teach us that it is our heart that God demands (Sanhedrin 106b)?
It is for this reason that our sages encouraged us to love rebuke (Tamid 28a). Rabbi Asher (Rosh) expresses this concept by teaching to rejoice when we hear criticism as if we found a great treasure (Orchos Chaim 45). It is difficult for us to see our own faults and when they are exposed we are granted knowledge that we would otherwise be unaware of.
But perhaps the most important thing to remember is that it is not our responsibility to evaluate ourselves. The Maimonides (Rambam) writes that everyone should always see themselves as if they were at the midpoint between merit and guilt (Hilchos Teshuva 3:4). Our work in this world is not to keep score. We are here to make the next minute better than the one that preceded this one.
This then would be the message of the verse that follows the one that we are discussing. In this verse God reminds us that it is He that searches the heart to give to each individual the fruit of their deeds (Jeremiah 17:10). God is reminding us that He knows where we are holding and He is a fair judge. It is not incumbent upon us to busy ourselves worrying about our status in God’s book. Yes, we must learn to recognize our good qualities and our negative traits, but all for a practical purpose. We need to study ourselves in order to know where we can grow and how to be better. But the primary focus should be to make today a better day than yesterday.