“You shall love the Eternal One, your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” These strange words, made familiar by sheer repetition in the V’ahavtah, appear in this week’s Torah portion, V’etchanan. A commandment to love? It doesn’t make any sense. Even in reference to our parents, where it is easy, the Torah only tells us to honor. How can a person love on command? Why would G-d give us a decree that is nearly impossible to follow? I can honor G-d, obey G-d, feel grateful to G-d, but to love is not something that humans can simply do on demand.
Sometimes it seems easy. When I look at a baby’s smile, a sunset, my family my gratitude overflows. But other times, I see a child with cancer, I remember the holocaust, I see poverty. How can G-d allow this to happen? It is in those moments that doubt and fear can overwhelm love, can even crush every rational explanation that I hold dear.
Let’s look a little further into the V’ahavtah. “Take these words which I command you this day… Teach them faithfully to your children. Speak of them in your home and on your way, when you lie down and when you rise up. Bind them as a sign upon your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead. Inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
When I teach the V’ahavtah to my students, I ask them what it takes to make a new friend. Sometimes I meet someone and right in that first moment when I meet them, I think, this person could be a great friend. In order to build that friendship, I mustn’t simply ignore the person. I need to call them, invite them over, and spend time with them. This is how humans build and maintain relationship.
It is the same thing with G-d, although we often forget it. G-d seems like a mighty and unknowable being. This is discouraging and so, sometimes we forget to seek G-d out. This week’s Torah portion tells us, “…if you search there for the Eternal One your G-d, you will find G-d, if only you seek G-d with all your heart and soul.” (Deut 4:29). Just as when you build a relationship with any human person you need to seek them out and spend time with them, so it is the same way with G-d.
How do you seek out and spend time with G-d? Prayer is the obvious, but not the only way. Teaching your children about G-d makes G-d a presence in your home. Talking about G-d at home and out insures that G-d will become a part of your life. Binding G-d’s words on your hands and between your eyes, whether literally with the tefillin and mezuzah or symbolically by your actions and thoughts, will attach G-d’s intentions to your physical self and your actions. And what will happen if you do all these things? You will develop a relationship with G-d and, in time, you will love G-d.
So, I ask my students. Is this prayer a commandment, or a prediction? I believe that it is both. G-d wants us to be in relationship with G-d, so this is a commandment and an instruction manual on how to begin and maintain that relationship. Faith ebbs and flows, depending on life’s circumstances, but these instructions help preserve that connection with G-d throughout life. Through this relationship we will grow to love G-d: “with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our might.”