A word of brotherly
advice before my thoughts on this week's parsha (perhaps it should be
words of "stern admonition"): READ THE ACTUAL TORAH PORTION THIS
Including the first paragraph of the Shema…which contain the famous words: "You shall love the Lord, your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your possessions [the Talmud's understanding of the ambiguous word, "m'odecha," literally, "your very much-ness," though often translated as "might"]. Followed by the less well-known, but crucial verse: "And these words that I command you today shall be upon your heart." (Deuteronomy: 6, 5-6)
Keep those two verses of the Shema in mind.
Now, consider the following statement (spoken by an imaginary suitor to his beloved), and see if it makes sense to you. "I love you, dearest, but I don't really want to know you." Perhaps we can come up with some strange or twisted scenario where it's appropriate, but I think you'll agree that, on a very basic level, the statement defies common sense. If I feel true love for someone, I desire to know him/her better. I certainly wish to spend time in the company of my beloved--which itself, presumably, increases my knowledge of him/her.
"To love" and "to know" are linked conceptually in Torah thought. The obvious illustration is the Torah's use of a form of the word, "to know," in describing marital relations between Adam and Chava (Eve) in Genesis. The most intimate experience and expression of love between a husband and a wife is referred to as "knowing" by the Torah. To love is to know…and to wish to know.
Permit me to ask you a question. Do we love G-d? (Beethoven's Fifth would seem apt here: BA-BA-BA-BAA!)
My impression is that most Jewish people who don't deny His existence outright would at least like to think of themselves as loving G-d, and if pressed to answer, would respond in the affirmative. We may have complaints and accusations against Him, ranging from the petty to the profound, but most of us would still say that "in our hearts" we love G-d.
If that is so, we must ask the even tougher follow-up question. Do we want to know G-d? (To the best of our limited human ability, of course…)
This is the challenge posed by the verses of the Shema quoted above. What is the connection between, You shall love the Lord, your G-d, and "These words shall be upon your heart?" The great commentator, Rashi, cites the explanation of the Midrash: "For as a result of this [meditating on words of Torah], you become aware of the Holy One, Blessed be He, and attach yourself to His ways." (translation of Artscroll Rashi, p. 72).
The Shema is telling us that studying Torah is the main way of achieving love of G-d, for it helps us to know Him better. It is also the main way of expressing our love of G-d, for it leads us both to perform His will (the mitzvos)--"Great is study," our Sages tell us, "for it brings one to performance"--and to become more like Him. In another comment on the commandment of loving G-d, Rashi highlights the importance of action: "Perform His words out of love." Love, in the Torah's view, is not only about knowing G-d, but is even more importantly, about doing what G-d wants.
After all, it would also be foolish and illogical for our suitor to say to his beloved: "I love you, dearest, but I am not going to do anything you desire at all."
The more we love, the more we want to know (and do)…and the more we know, the more we love. If it's true between people, it's no less true between man and G-d. And the main way we come to know G-d is to meditate on His Torah. (Another great path to love of G-d, discussed at length by Rambam, is to study His Creation in all its wisdom and complexity. So get out your telescope, and your old college Biology textbooks.)
As Rabbeinu Bachya, a wonderful medieval commentator, writes: "The concept of love [of G-d] is that a person meditates in His Torah and mitzvos (commandments), and through them, attains [some level of] understanding of Hashem, and delights in that understanding with the very utmost pleasure…" (my translation)
May we all be inspired this Shabbos first to read this awe-inspiring Torah portion, then to meditate on a line or two. The Shema is as good a place as any. With a little Shabbos rest to go with it (and maybe a l'chayim or two, if that's your pleasure), the chances are very good that we may all grow a bit in our love of G-d. It's nothing less than the purpose of our lives on earth.
Rabbi Yosef Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 355-0157; fax: 354-9923; e-mail address: Yosef18@aol.com
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