September 22, 2019

TABLE FOR FIVE: Vaetchanan

Weekly Parsha: One Verse, Five Voices

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Miriam Yerushalmi
Author, Counselor

L’vav’cha translates literally as “your hearts.” The plural wording reminds us that we were each created with two distinct inclinations — the animal soul and the Godly soul — that motivate us in our service of God. We tend to imagine the animal soul as the source of our base, negative impulses or character traits; and we think we would be better people if only we could conquer and eradicate that part of us.

Not so!

Both souls, both hearts are holy, and both are necessary to loving God fully. The animal soul emanates from a very high spiritual plane, yet corresponds to our bodily nature. It is likened to a “wild ox”: untamed, passionate, a tremendously powerful force of potential spiritual energy waiting to be applied. The Godly soul, which actually emanates from a lower existential plane, is like a lamb. It knows how God wants to be loved, and wants to love God that way, but lacks the energy or the physical capability to fulfill its highest potential.

Through prayer and meditation the Godly soul harnesses the fiery passion of the animal soul, and as the passion and love are directed toward Godliness, the holy fire burns away the negativity within the “ox,” creating a healthy unification of the spiritual and physical realities within each of us, thus permitting a higher love of, and avodah (service) to, the quintessentially Infinite One.

With united hearts we can reach transcendental heights of love for our Creator —  and ourselves.

Rabbi Ari Segal
Head of School, Shalhevet High School

The verse presents a conundrum, a Jewish doctrine equally as fundamental to our faith as it is difficult to understand. Commandments of the body are routine in Judaism, but commandments of the heart? That’s another matter.

How can the Torah legislate that we experience an emotion — especially love toward such an unfathomable being as God?

In fact, emotion and action are more closely connected than we think. Many sages interpret the fulfillment of Ve’ahavta (You shall love) as the actions that demonstrate our love of God; not the love itself. Commandments are designed to inspire love of God, and they can have an impact even if we aren’t currently capable of loving God “with all your heart.”

The Kotzker Rebbe comments on another verse in this week’s parsha that we are commanded to keep our love for God “on” rather than “in” our hearts, suggesting an inherent process of preparation. Our deeds that encourage this love wait on the “surface” of our hearts, ready to flood in when we are open to this complicated commandment.

This approach to Ve’ahavta offers another insight. It’s easy nowadays to make ourselves miserable in pursuit of our goals. We focus on achievement, forgetting to celebrate the journey itself. But truly living each experience is equally, if not more valuable than, that tantalizing end. Ve’ahavta reminds us to savor the process. As we open our hearts to loving God, let’s also open our minds to appreciating every step of our journeys, no matter what waits ahead.

Rabbi Lori Shapiro
Open Temple

Love. The English word for love is so simple. We use it so often, we have rendered it meaningless: I love you. Love you. Hand heart.

Love pops like a soap bubble on the face; but, the Hebrew word for love — Ah-ha-vah — is a deep diaphragmatic workout. Say it. Ah-ha-vah. Exhausting, isn’t it?

Even the Hebrew grammar of the word itself is work. It’s a participle-type word, meaning it is both a noun and a verb, a thing and an action. So, in Hebrew, even the grammatical tense is a workout. Love, in Hebrew, is a thing that demands of us, as the rabbis teach, to obey with a bodily awareness —  to almost breathe for another.

In Deuteronomy 6:5, Moses is in the throes of his elegy to the Israelites. His life nearly done, he imparts to the Israelites (and to us) the essence of what we must know. We must know the commandments. We must know our history. We must know God.

But how do we, mere mortals not meant for prophecy, attain such knowledge? Through the work of Ah-ha-vah. And how do we do this? With sweat. With obedience. With giving. With Ah-ha-vah — all of your heart. Ah-ha-vah — all of your soul. And Ah-ha-vah — all of your everything.

That’s love.

Rabbi Adam Kligfeld
Temple Beth Am

One of the wisest things I learned from my grandfather, Rabbi Bernard Kligfeld z”l, is that in life and in love sometimes feeling follows action. We are taught that feelings govern action. You love, and therefore you hug. You feel committed, and therefore you donate.

Sometimes reality does work out that way. But just as often, because you begin to volunteer, you develop greater esteem for the cause or the beneficiary of your volunteerism. Sometimes, you hug your child not because you’re feeling love for her in that moment, but rather you’re lacking that loving feeling momentarily and by hugging her the warmth and the tenderness return.

We can reawaken feelings through action. As important as that is to learn with respect to the animate people within our lives, it is also important to internalize with respect to the great-but-evanescent parts of our life — including our Creator. Do I wake up every morning infatuated with Adonai? I don’t. But once I start to utter the Modeh Ani; once I begin to articulate my prayers and wrap my tefillin, and begin to engage in the very actions that are deemed to be loving expressions to the eternal one, the feeling begins to return, like blood rushing back to an extremity.

When the Torah commands us to love the Lord our God, perhaps it is too much pressure to think of it as an obligation to feel. Maybe we ought to heed it as a reminder to do. And through the doing, the love will return.

Rabbi Reuven Wolf
Maayon Yisroel

As a Jew, you have a both a human heart and a Godly heart. Your Godly heart loves God with a burning passion. Your Godly heart is crazy about God. But you don’t normally feel your Godly heart. Though your Godly heart is your truest heart, it generally remains buried deep beneath your subconscious.

Your conscious heart is the human heart, and the human heart is not so crazy about God. What the human heart cares about is “me” and “my life.” To the extent that God enhances my life, I consider Him; to the extent that He doesn’t, I don’t. God, however, wants us to love Him with both of our hearts.

On the verse, “Ve’ahavta es Hashem Elokecha bchol l’vavcha” (“You should love God with your whole heart”), Rashi comments: “bshnei yitzrecha” (with both of your hearts). God wants you to love Him with your Godly heart and your human heart, to care about Him with both your spiritual self and your regular self. But how can we do that?

Through thinking about Him. Just like in a human relationship, the more you appreciate your partner’s awesomeness, the more you will love him or her. And the more you appreciate God’s awesomeness, the more you will love Him. Take time every day to ponder God’s greatness, to think about the vastness and grandeur of His creation, to reflect on the bounty He has given you. With a little time, your human heart will begin to love God, too.