D’var Torah for August 7, 2020

This week we will be reading from parashat Eikev. At this point in Deuteronomy, Moses began emphasizing both the nature and the importance of the relationship between the Israelites and God. This represents a significant transition from the earlier parshiyot where Moses was retelling his perspective on their journey from Egypt to the borders of Canaan.

It starts off with Moses reminding the Israelites that their relationship with God is based not on strict obedience, but instead the central principle of ahavah, love. In Deuteronomy 13:16 we read, “God will favor you and bless you and multiply you.” Though the literal reading of the test is “God will love you and bless you and multiply you.” As the Etz Hayim commentary notes, “Whether it is a case of God blessing the people or of the people blessing God, ‘only a blessing that flows from love deserves to be called a blessing” (A.J. Heschel).”[1]

The mitzvah (commandment) to love appears three times in the Torah. We are commanded to love God (Deut. 6:5), we are commanded to love (our fellow Israelite) as yourself (Lev. 19:18), and we are commanded to love the stranger, for we were strangers in Egypt (Lev. 19:34).

We should note that these three mitzvot are not based on any notion of romantic love, but instead on the idea of covenantal love. As Rabbi Bradley Artson Shavit wrote, “Jewish love is covenantal. Covenants are not necessarily restricted to equal parties. Kings and vassals are not equal, yet they provide the sociopolitical context for the biblical covenant. God and the Jewish People do not claim to be equal. But they do insist on the ability to bridge the chasm of disparity with relationship, and in relationship one may stand as a partner even with someone who is not your equal. Love that it spans that gulf, and un-equals are able to stand in partnership and in dignity together, despite their differences; perhaps because of their distinctiveness. Our entire tradition is a recurrent outpouring of covenantal love, so that God creates the world, we are told, in order to have an object to love. As if that isn’t enough, God rises up against Pharaoh and brings us to freedom, because God so loves our ancestors. Then as if that isn’t enough, God brings us to the foot of Mt. Sinai, and there offers us a covenantal contract, which the rabbis tell us is a Ketubah, a wedding contract.”[2]

According to this interpretation, an important facet to the mitzvah of ahavah, love, is to see the dignity in our fellow human beings. Given today’s cultural and political climate, it is becoming increasingly all-too-easy to see someone else not as being endowed in dignity and stature, but instead as being someone less-than. Once this happens, it becomes even easier to dismiss others, deride them, and ignore them.

Our tradition found in Eikev is imploring us not to take this approach, especially in times of crises. As we are taught in Genesis, we are all created in God’s image, therefore to fulfill the mitzvah of loving our fellow human beings is how we demonstrate our love of and our love for God.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff

[1] Etz Hayim pg. 1037
[2] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-bradley-shavit-artson/jewish-love-covenant_b_1130513.html