Thoughts for Sedra Va’Etchanan
Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag
From the Latin Poet Virgil Omnia Vincit Amor love conquers all, to the (almost) contemporary Beatles, All You Need is Love, love is an important part of human existence. For Judaism, though, there is an extra dimension – love directed at the One Above, as we find in our Sedra Va’Etchanan: And you shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart with all your soul and with all your might’ (Devarim 6;5).
From an early age our children are taught to recite the basic statements of the Jewish faith, the Shema followed by the paragraph beginning Ve’ohavto. The command to love G-d is one which might be thought of as involving just our own relationship with G-d. The sages, however, add that the mitzvah of loving G-d includes a responsibility for each person to make the name of G-d beloved on his, or her, fellow human beings. There are two ways in which this functions:
1. There is what we can call a reactive model of making G-d beloved, “so that the name of Heaven should be beloved through
you” (Talmud Bavli Yoma 86a). This guides the person to regulate his behaviour to the level of exemplary, so that those who look at him and observe his conduct are led to declare: ‘happy is man who taught him Torah’; ‘woe to those who are not so educated’. By maintaining exemplary standards of moral and religious conduct and acting as an advert for Judaism, setting a standard which people want to emulate, this brings other people to love G-d.
2. There is secondly what we can be termed a proactive model of reaching out to others, and making G-d beloved on fellow men. Maimonides explains that the mitzvah of loving G-d inherently involves sharing that love of Judaism with others. That, we see, is how human beings function – that when they have a love for someone or something they seek to share that
enthusiasm with others.
This mitzvah also includes the requirement that we should call all other people to serve Him, and to believe in Him. This is so, for when you have a love for a particular person, you will relate his praises and you will indulge greatly in this, and you will call on other people to love him. The same thing applies here – when you truly love the Almighty, when you have arrived at some conception of His truth, you will, no doubt, call on the unlearned to get to know the true knowledge which you know. (Maimonides, Sefer Hamitzvot Positive Commandment 3),
In recent years, the Jewish world has been enriched by a movement for educational outreach, kiruv rechokim. The father of the outreach movement, the first in Jewish history to engage in outreach, bringing the truth of Torah to his fellows, was none other than the patriarch Abraham. For this, G-d referred to him as: ‘Abraham who loves me’. This showed the way for us, similarly, that our love for G-d, our commitment to Judaism is to be measured by the extent to which we are prepared to call other people to come close to G-d and to Judaism.
The instruction to love G-d VeAhavta is followed by a threefold with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Commentator Ohr Hachaim identifies these with the three blessings to which people aspire most of all – boney, children and family, chayey, life and health and mezoney, food and livelihood. According to Ohr Hachaim With all your heart represents the blessing of children and family – for children and family are that for which we give all our emotion, our love and our heart . With all your soul corresponds to the blessing of life itself, and with all your might refers to all your possessions, and corresponds to mezoney – food and livelihood .
This Shabbos Nachamu, the Shabbat of comfort after the sadness of Tisha B’Av, as we express our love for Hashem by reaching out to our fellow with the message of Torah and Judaism, may we all be granted the threefold blessing of the Shema – nachas from our family; life, health and strength; and financial wellbeing and prosperity.