This week’s Torah portion contains one of our most well-known prayers, the Shema and V’Ahavta. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
We recite this prayer every time we gather as a community, but have we ever paused to think about its meaning and ponder its words. What does it mean to love God? Moreover, how does one love God? Love can sometimes be challenging and difficult. This is why there are so many songs and poems about love, especially those about losing love. The ancient rabbis, in their wisdom, recognized this difficulty.
The Sefat Emet, a great Hasidic master, teaches that everyone wants to love God, but distractions and obstacles often get in the way. By performing mitzvot he taught, we remove these obstacles and distractions and let our souls fulfill their natural inclination of loving God. In his worldview righteous acts are a balm, helping to fill our hearts with generosity, compassion and love.
The Midrash, on the other hand, notices that there are only three mitzvot that command love. We are commanded to love the neighbor. We are commanded to love the stranger. These commandments are given in the Book of Leviticus. We are commanded to love God later, in the Book of Deuteronomy. The Midrash comments: this teaches that we learn to love God by practicing love of God’s creatures, by loving our fellow human beings. We begin by loving those closest to us and thereby reach towards God.
Both of these commentaries recognize that although love might be cherished and sought after it is often a difficult to achieve. Nonetheless as Rabbi John used to say, “All you need is love. All you need is love. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.” Amen. Yeah, yeah, yeah.