Everyone wants our attention, and technology has made it both easier and more difficult to focus on what is truly important. Facebook keeps nudging me about the birthdays of people I haven’t spoken with in years, if ever, and there is no escape from the latest escapades of our politicians. Disasters cluster and clamor for our sympathies, and of course we want to help, but then immediate tasks like groceries, laundry and dirty dishes push headlines from our minds and leave us wondering if we are capable of achieving anything that might endure.
Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy sustained focus on just one person, place or project? I have tried this summer to protect blocks of time for writing, with limited success, because there are so many competing interests. But as we approach both the new academic and new Jewish year, it is worth thinking about methods to allow ourselves to achieve focus so that we may accomplish more of our goals, rather than constantly shifting to whatever stimulus flashes before us.
At least we can comfort ourselves that this inability to focus is a human deficit, and that “the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Psalms 121:1). This insomniac image of God is somewhat comforting, but our ancestors have always worried whether God is truly paying attention to our needs. Worse, we worry that when God does focus on us, it will be our worst moments, not our best, that stand out. This is why our high holiday liturgy emphasizes, זכרינו לחיים, “remember us for life”—we fear that when divine attention settles on us, our sins will stand out and our merits will be forgotten.
Parashat Ekev waxes poetic in praise of the Land and its great fertility. In Chapter 11, v.12, just before it gets to what became the second paragraph of Kriat Shema, the Torah states that the land that Israel is inheriting receives constant divine attention—The eyes of the Lord your God are on it from the beginning of the year until the end of the year. Continue reading