D’var Torah for August 4, 2017

This week’s Torah portion contains the Sh’ma and V’ahavta. The V’ahavta is a fascinating piece of text. Here it is in the translation from our prayerbook, Mishkan T’filah:

You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart,
With all your soul, and with all your might.
Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day.
Impress them upon your children.
Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away,
When you lie down and when you get up.
Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead;
Inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Looking at this text, it would appear that it contains six commandments:

1. Love G-d
2. Teach your children about G-d
3. Recite these words at home and away
4. Recite these words before bed and upon awakening
5. Put the words on your hand and forehead (t’fillin)
6. Put the words on your doorposts and gates (mezuzah)

There is one problem. How can we be commanded to do the first of these? How can we be commanded to love? I would argue that this first one is not a commandment at all, but rather a prediction.

How do we build and develop relationships? When we meet someone whom we wish to befriend, we don’t simply ignore them and hope that a friendship will develop from our lack of communication. No, we introduce ourselves, speak with the person, find out about them, and spend time with them. Through these actions, we develop relationships and sometimes love. But, how do we learn to love G-d, who is, in so many ways, unknowable? Well, we have a little instruction manual.

 – Teach your children about G-d
 – Connect to G-d at home and away
 – Connect to G-d when you wake up and when you go to sleep
 – Put the words on your hand and forehead. Traditionally this means wear t’fillin, but it can also be interpreted symbolically. Putting the words on your hand is about action, doing mitzvot. Putting the words on your forehead is about thought and study
 – Put the words on your doorposts – mezuzah – seeing the reminders of Jewishness as part of your home.

If you do those things, you will develop a connection and relationship with G-d and with your Judaism, and it is through relationships that love can grow.

Shabbat Shalom,
Cantor Sally Neff