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You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might (6:5).
Love is an emotion. It is not a choice. It just happens. It is irrational. All those who have experienced love at first hand know exactly how it electrifies and galvanizes.
From earliest childhood I could not bear the taste of fried fish, and I have generally been quite happy to jump the soup course. So I cannot love, or even warm, to the fish and the soup, which is perhaps why my editors and distributors have named my weekly missives. http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/ 'Between the Fish and the Soup'. (They might have done better - on Shabbat Nachamu at any rate - with 'Between the Strawberries & Cream, and the Black Coffee'. Failing best English strawberries, 'Between the Mango Pavlova and the Black Coffee' would have done just fine).
On the face of it, the Torah - in this case recited daily in the first paragraph of the Shema appears to be demanding the impossible. It is not regulating an action, but an emotion: 'You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, all your sould, and all your might'.
The oft-quoted explanation is the one given by the Talmud (Berachot 62a): 'You must love G-d - even if He takes your life'. As the Alshich elaborates, if facing martyrdom, it should not be the attitude of being a victim of murder, but attaining the ultimate spiritual height of surrendering one's very soul and being to the Creator. The Talmud exemplifies with the story of Rabbi Akiva. Whilst being tortured to death by the Romans, he explained to his incredulous disciplies: "All my life I prayed that I would be able to maintain my love of G-d even if it cost me my life. Now that I am succeeding in doing so, should I not be happy?"
Elsewhere, however, the Talmud (Yoma 86a) explains loving G-d in a more everyday manner:
'You shall love the Lord your G-d', means that the Name of Heaven shall be beloved because of you'. In other words, your own conduct as a Jew and bearer of the Torah tradition should cause others to love G-d. As the Talmud elaborates:
'If someone studies Torah and Mishna, and attends on the disciples of the wise, is honest in business, and speaks pleasantly to persons, what do people then say concerning him? "Happy is the father who taught him Torah! Happy is the teacher who taught him Torah! Woe to people who have not studied the Torah! For this man has studied the Torah: look how fine are his ways, how righteous are his deeds! Of him does Scripture say: 'He said to me: "You are My servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified'" (Isaiah 49.3). But if someone studies Scripture and Mishna, attends on the disciples of the wise, but is dishonest in business, and discourteous in his relations with people, what do people say about him? "Woe to him who studied the Torah! Woe to his father who taught him Torah! Woe to his teacher who taught him Torah! This man studied the Torah: look, how corrupt are his deeds, how ugly are his ways…"'
In short, 'be good'. That is 'loving G-d'. Loving G-d comes from the source of action, from the source of 'doing'.
This explanation sheds light on love in the reversed direction. It is where, at the end of the Parasha, Moses quotes G-d's love for His People:
'G-d did not desire you and choose you because you are a more numerous people than other nations. Indeed, you are the fewest in number of all nations. But because He loves you… He redeemed you from slavery and from the hand of Pharaoh, King of Egypt' (7:7-8).
However, that love does not mean unconditional favor. As Moses adds: 'You shall observe the commandment, decrees, and ordinances… and perform them' (7:11).
As long as the Israelites live within the framework of the Creator, G-d will show His love by favoring them (c.f. 7:12-16). And if they do not, Israel must grasp that G-d's love will be shown toughly: 'as a man chastises his son, so G-d chastises you' (8:5). Indeed, the implication of the recent reading of the Book of Eicha is that the Israelites deserved what they got, but 'G-d would not utterly reject them' (Lam:3:31).
Thus G-d causes Himself to be loved - or at any rate feared and respected - by His conduct towards His people… It is His People's duty to conduct themselves in such a way that His warm love rather than His tough love (which may include 'hiding His face' (31:18) for them may be manifest on earth…
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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