Earlier this week, I heard the song “The Heart of the Matter” by Don Henley on my favorite music app. I hadn’t heard this song in years. I like Don Henley’s music, and in my opinion the Eagles are one of the greatest rock bands of all time.
As I was sitting in my driveway about to turn my vehicle off, I was inspired to pause and listen carefully to the words of this song. It hit me that Henley’s lyrics were heartfelt, important, and relevant to the month of Elul—the month where Judaism challenges us to do a cheshbon nefesh (spiritual accounting) in anticipation of the fall high holidays.
The song “The Heart of the Matter” is about a man who finds out that someone that he had previously loved was in a new relationship. This discovery was hard for the man to learn because he still had feelings for the person with whom he was previously involved. Rather than permit his regret to overtake him, this man allowed this news to serve as a catalyst for various levels of reflection about the struggles he experienced in the relationship. The song shows that the man became aware of some significant personal flaws and mistakes that he had made, while acknowledging that his self-assessment had its limitations (“the more I know, the less I understand”). In raw honesty, the man confesses that he was guilty of pride, competition, and a yearning undefined. I found this line to be powerful:
“And the work I put between us, you know it doesn’t keep me warm.”
In “The Heart of the Matter,” the man not only deals with his own internal struggles, but he expresses an important sense of recognition as to how he should deal with other people who have let him down. Toward the beginning of the song, he lamented that we live in a “graceless age.” But he offers an answer as to how to respond to life’s disappointments:
“There are people in your life
Who've come and gone
They let you down
You know they hurt your pride
You better put it all behind you, baby
'Cause life goes on
You keep carryin' that anger
It'll eat you up inside, baby”
That’s good advice but, of course, not always easy to apply. But the man provides a foundational reason as to why we should move on when people hurt us. In other words, the man gets to “the heart of the matter.” His reflections are summed up with these poignant words:
“I've been trying to get down
To the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak*
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it's about forgiveness
Even if, even if you don't love me”
Without directly referencing God, Yeshua, the Bible, Judaism, or Elul, Don Henley’s song gets to the heart of some matters that are very important for us to consider as we approach the high holidays.
Disappointment, anger, pride, undefined yearnings, are examples of things that can cripple our relationship with HaShem and our relationships with each other. But when it comes to our relationships, the heart of the matter is forgiveness. In order for us to experience restoration and progress in our relationships, which God wants us to do at all times, but especially during this season, then we have to be willing to put aside our “scattered thoughts” and “weak will” and get to the heart of the matter, which is forgiveness. We can almost always come up with a reason not to forgive someone else, or to receive the forgiveness that God offers. But don’t get stuck there. It will eat you up inside (as the song says).
In the days leading up to the high holidays, let’s think about forgiveness. Is there someone that you need to forgive? Is there someone from whom you need to ask forgiveness? Or is there guilt that you are carrying in your relationship with God that he wants you to let go of?
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Yeshua his Son cleanses us from all sin… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:7, 9)
May your holidays be filled with the joy and freedom that comes when we get to the heart of the matter: Forgiveness!
*Possibly referring to Matthew 26:41 (“The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”)