This week’s Torah portion, Vaetchanan, helps us navigate a solid path to God by setting up a challenging opportunity. In fact, this challenge is not only present in today’s Torah portion but is present throughout our liturgy. The challenge comes in the first paragraph of the Shema where we are commanded:V’ahavta Et Adonai Elohecha b’kol levavcha, u’v’chol nafshecha u’v’chol meodecha–“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might” (6:5).
Although we say or sing these words multiple times every day, this commandment is not easy to observe. How does one learn to love God with all one’s heart, soul and might? And how can we even love God if we have trouble locating God’s whereabouts in the world and in our lives? Furthermore, since love is a human emotion–how can a person be commanded to love?
Our tradition maintains that loving God is an exemplary way to live. In order to understand how we should love God–perhaps we should begin by looking at how God loves us. In the Ahava Rabbah paragraph which we recite each morning during the Shacharit service and in the Ahavat Olam paragraph which we say in the evening Ma’ariv evening service, we learn how deeply rooted God’s love is for us. In both of these prayers before the Shema, we recognize that with constancy God has loved the people of Israel.
Reciprocally, we show our love for God when we study and live Torah. Since God has expressed love for us eternally by giving us commandments, statutes and laws, our observance of mitzvot and our study of Torah can bring us to love God in return. The Torah’s commandments are the means by which it is possible to keep in contact with God. So too the Torah covenant represents the mutuality of love through obligation and commitment to each other. Since we can’t readily touch, feel, smell or see God. I believe that the Torah is the best shot we have at knowing and loving God through learning the words and teachings God uttered. The commandments help us bring meaning into our lives. May we deepen our relationship with God and one another in the coming days through the study of Torah that leads us to more thoughtful and righteous living.
Susan, Atara, Micah and Elan join me in wishing you a Shabbat Shalom from our home to yours!
-Rabbi Joseph Krakoff