Life is a tale of two desires. Sometimes, I think I know what I want, and I think that if I only had that, I would be happy. Then the darndest thing happens. I get what I thought would make me happy, and I am still not happy. What does it mean, did I not really want what I thought I wanted?
The fact is that we want things on many levels. For example, I might be eating a piece of bread and thinking, if only this were garlic bread. If only I were eating a rib steak with barbecue sauce. If only I were enjoying a seven-course meal. My stale piece of bread is so bland.
But is that really what I want? If I were famished after wandering in the desert for three days, I would be happy with a piece of bread and a glass of water. I would never disparage this life-giving, nourishing meal if I were in danger of dying from hunger. So, what do I really want, a simple piece of bread or a gourmet meal and mouth-watering steak?
The answer is both. In my outer sphere of thinking, I want the delicious dish; in my inner sphere of thinking, I want to live. If I had fasted for three days, I would be happy with any life-nourishing fare. But I didn’t fast for three days. I just ate three hours ago. So, I am not thinking about my desire to live. I am just thinking about a gourmet meal, and I am not happy with a piece of bread.
A Tale of Two Desires
This tells me that we desire things on multiple levels. Our outer desire is to eat. Our inner desire is to live. Satisfying our outer desires doesn’t make us happy. We are happy when we satisfy our inner desires. This is why we might want that three-scroop ice cream cone or that beautiful Alaskan cruise and still not be happy when we get it. We achieved our outer desires, but we never paid attention to our inner desire. And happiness comes from satisfying the inner desire.
A parched, famished person is happy with a simple piece of bread and a cold glass of water. This is because he or she is aware that they just achieved their inner desire. They preserved their life. But a wealthy person might be unhappy with a seven-course meal because it never once occurred to them that they were nourishing life. They were so consumed by their outer desire that they were completely oblivious to their inner desire. This leaves them feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled.
Access the Inner Desire
In this week’s Torah reading, we read that when we enter the land that G-d will give us, possess it, and settle it, we will bring our first fruit that ripens to G-d. Every year, Jews would step out into their vineyards and orchards and check if their fruits had ripened. When they found a ripe fruit, they would tie it with a bow and bring it to Jerusalem when they made their pilgrimage for the festival of Shavuot.
This Mitzvah only took effect after they entered their land and settled it. It was not obligatory while they were conquering and settling the land. Only when they settled into it did they bring their fruit to G-d.
On the surface, this makes perfect sense. You can’t bring fruits to G-d before you settle in your land and plant an orchard. However, in the Torah, there is always a deeper layer of understanding. Let’s peel away that layer and get to the inner stream of meaning.
The Hebrew word for land is aretz. The Hebrew word for desire is ratzon. Eretz and ratzon are etymologically similar. Indeed, our sages taught that Israel is called aretz because, in Israel, we are inspired to desire what G-d desires.
The deepest desire of a Jew is to want what G-d wants. Nevertheless, this deepest desire is not always top of mind. We are often consumed with a plethora of outer desires that distract us from this deepest desire.
Thus, the words “when you enter the land that G-d will give you” can be understood as “when you access the desire that G-d will give you”—the inner desire to be with G-d. Our outer desires are usually shallow and selfish. We seek things that we think will make us happy. We seek pastimes and things that give us pleasure. We seek aggrandizement and attention. On a deeper level, we seek validation and substantiation. We think that the only way to achieve these things is to earn more, to gain more, and to achieve more.
In this mindset—the mindset of our outer desires—we are not predisposed to give away our first ripened fruit. We worked hard for this moment. We plowed, planted, watered, and tended. We waited, yearned, invested, and toiled. The first moment of pleasure, the first moment of validation, the first return on our investment should be ours. If someone were to tell us to give it away, we would refuse.
However, when we access our inner desire—the desire to want what G-d wants, the desire to be connected with G-d—we happily give our first fruits to G-d. Our inner desire is not to achieve wealth, gain fame, or amass power. Our inner desire is not to enjoy luxury, pleasure, or opulence. It is not even for validation, fulfillment, and meaning. The inner desire of a Jew is to be attached to G-d.
On the deepest level, we want to surrender to G-d. We want to dissolve into G-d’s infinity. We want to be a sliver of G-d’s magnificence. We want to be a part of G-d. As Jews, we can only be truly happy and truly fulfilled when we achieve this inner desire. But we are not conditioned to suspend our ego and give it up for G-d until we access this inner desire. Our outer desires form a barrier to this pristine inner desire.
This is the inner stream of meaning in this passage. You want to know when you will be conditioned to part with your first fruit, your first reward, your justly deserved well-earned return on your investment? When you enter—when you access—the desire that G-d will give you—your inner desire.
The Month of Elul
This passage is always read during the month of Elul, the last month in the Hebrew calendar year. This is traditionally a month of introspection and self-reflection. It is a time to take inventory of our life’s direction and determine what we are doing right and where we are going wrong. It is a time to make corrections and alter our course so that it leads to our desired destination.
If there ever was a time in the year to self-examine and access our inner desire, it is this month. This is the time to align our desires with G-d’s desire. In this month, we are tasked with recognizing that the path to fulfillment, meaning, and validation, the path to happiness and joy, leads through our inner desire.
Set aside what you want for what G-d wants, and He will set aside what He wants for what you want. If we spend this month identifying with G-d’s desires and determining which ones we need to achieve, He will reciprocate on Rosh Hashamah. When the new year begins, G-d will grant us a year of plenty with blessing, health, and joy.
May we be inscribed and sealed for a good year.
Rabbi Eliezer (Lazer) Gurkow, currently serving as rabbi of congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, is a well-known speaker and writer on Torah issues and current affairs.