"You shall love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." (Deuteronomy 6:5)
Rashi, the Commentator of commentators, was a master of putting Torah in context. We will honor his teaching as we try to do the same.
Moses is giving his final words of instruction to the Children of Israel before his death. In an effort to ensure loyalty of the people of Israel towards the God of Israel, he reminds them of all that God has done for them. After reciting the Ten Commandments for the second time, Moses instructs the people that they must love God.
Each week we will select one theme from the parashah that is directly relevant to our lives.
The commandment "to love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" is a theme that runs through the Book of Deuteronomy and is considered to be a cornerstone of Jewish tradition and faith. It is recited together with the Shema during services and is considered by rabbinic tradition as one of the 613 mitzvot. The ways in which we experience and express our love for God can impact on many areas of our lives. Indeed, every human relationship can be understood as a reflection of our relationship with the divine.
A SAGE SPEAKS
Each week we will learn from a Talmid Chacham - a disciple of the wise.
The rabbinic sages grappled with the meaning of this particular text and the many issues it raises. They asked questions such as "What does it mean to love God?" and "How does one express love for God?" Over the centuries, rabbis, commentators, and poets offered many different interpretations and responses.
The biblical commentator Rashi pointed out that the Torah itself explains how we are to love God by including the words "with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might". He suggested that "with all your heart" means we should serve God with all our powers for goodness, compassion and charity. "With all your soul" means we should be ready to give our lives, if necessary, for the principles of our faith. "With all your might" means we should be willing to use our property and wealth to perform acts of charity that promote the survival of our people. (Fields, p.114)
The Hassidic rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev taught that we show our love for God by loving other people. He wrote: "Whether a person really loves God can be determined by the love he/she bears toward others" because we are all created b'tzelem Elohim, in God's image (Telushkin, Jewish Wisdom, p.176). When we show love and respect towards others, we are also showing love and respect towards God.
Some of the early rabbinic interpreters suggested that the love of God is expressed through mitzvot - deeds. Just as we are commanded to love God, so are we commanded to fulfill the mitzvot found in the Torah. Rabbi Gunther Plaut agrees and writes: "Each mitzvah done in the right spirit is an act of loving God. (Plaut, The Torah, A Modern Commentary p. 1370-1371)
THE TORAH AND YOU
Questions and/or activities for families:
- With older children (10+)
- Why do you think we are not asked to love God, or encouraged to love God, but commanded to love God?
- The sages taught that the mitzvah "to love God" is the most important commandment of the Torah. Why do you think this mitzvah was considered to be so important?
- The ancient rabbis felt that we express our love for God when we behave in a way that makes God beloved by others. What could you do that would result in other people loving God?
- The scroll that is found inside a mezuzah contains the words of this week's text. Why do you think the rabbis chose this particular text to be placed inside a mezuzah?
- With younger children (6-9)
- Think about all of the people in your family whom you love. What kinds of things do you do to show that you love them?
- Go for a walk as a family and see if you can find things that are examples of God's love.
- What could you do to show that you love God?
- Go around the table and have everyone complete this statement: I love God when I .
Va-et'chanan, Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 1,333-1,378; Revised Edition, pp. 1,184-1,221;
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 1,063-1,088