(Torah Portion Va’eschanan) With All Your Heart!
Probably the Torah verse most well-known by all Jews, is the declaration of Shema Yisroel Ado-noy E-lo-hai-nu Ado-noy Echad. In these six words a Jew declares his allegiance to the Almighty, proclaiming that G-d was, is, and always will be, the One and only.
A Jew carries the Shema statement and declaration with him from the cradle until his last breath. Essentially, the Shema is the bottom line of each Jew. Every one of us is born a believer. Although it may appear that some people are inherently non-believers, this is only because circumstances of life and misinformation may have gotten in their way, but deep down in the core of our essence we are all believers. Even one who openly expresses that they don’t believe, their essential belief becomes manifest in subtle ways. For example, they may participate in certain religious practices which is not in sync with the non-belief they express.
We all agree that to achieve and maintain love requires caring, resolve, and attention from both parties.
In our daily recitation of Shema, the declaration of “Shema Yisrael” is immediately followed by the verse, “V’ahavta” – And you should love your G-d.
One may wonder, “I can be commanded to believe, but how can I be expected to attain the emotion of loving G-d?”
The Torah speaks of love between husband and wife, between parents and children and between friends. Often the Torah also speaks of G-d’s love towards us and the love we are to feel towards Him.
Rabbi Shimon Schwab o.b.m. explained our profound connection with G-d in a succinct fashion: Only after we establish that G-d exists with our proclamation of the Shema, can we come to the next level of loving G-d. For one cannot love an idea or philosophical concept. One can only love something that exists. At Mount Sinai G-d revealed Himself and related to each of us on an individual level.
Chovos Halevovos explains that love for G-d is an outgrowth of our gratitude for the fact that He created us. Each person should think to himself, “G-d created me – although He did not need me. This is obvious because the world existed before me and will continue without me.”
We have a special love of G-d for He created us as members of the Jewish nation with the purpose of serving Him during our sojourn in this world. He also gave us the potential to earn eternal life in the world to come when we will enjoy the pleasure of closeness to the Almighty.
G-d created each of us with a unique purpose, distinct DNA, personality, circumstances, drives and ambitions. He hopes we make the right choices to serve Him correctly by obeying the directives of His Torah.
This idea is brought out strikingly in the end of the verse directing us to love G-d. The verse states that we are to serve G-d with our ‘hearts.’ The Talmud explains that the word “hearts” is plural to teach us that we are to serve G-d with both the heart that nudges us to do good, and with our heart or inclination that nudges us to do what is inappropriate.
How can we understand this? After all, we can understand serving G-d with our good inclination, but how are we to understand serving G-d with our evil inclination?
We can understand serving G-d with our innate desires to do bad, by overcoming and overpowering our urges, drives, inclinations, and personality that wants what is wrong and turning it around and actually using it as a vehicle to serve G-d! This is a most difficult challenge – yet the feeling of one who accomplishes this is unparalleled.
This past Friday, my son Moshe called me from camp and told me that he had just heard a Holocaust survivor, Mr. Cooperstein, speak to the staff members about his harrowing and miraculous experiences while he was in the concentration camps.
The ending of his presentation was really touching and powerful.
Mr. Cooperstein said that he is 88 years old and very physically fit. He has been married for 64 years and has many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He also has been blessed with success. “You should know that throughout my difficult travails, I never asked G-d ‘Why me?’ ‘Why did this happen?’ I always believed G-d’s plan was for the ultimate good, whether I understood it or not.”
Mr. Cooperstein continued, “A story I heard about my ancestor, the great and holy Chasam Sofer, Rabbi Moshe Sofer o.b.m. continues to guide my outlook of events.”
On a walk to Shul one day, the Chasam Sofer noticed a very very old looking man. He stopped him and asked him to what did he attribute his longevity? The man answered, “Anytime something bad occurred, I never asked Hashem, ‘Why?’ You know why? Because when one insists on wanting to find out why, G-d may very quickly summon him back home to the world to come where the truth is apparent and he will receive all the answers in the world.”
Mr. Cooperstein concluded, “Live with belief and trust in Hashem and you’ll see fulfillment and blessings throughout your life!”
Wishing you a most enjoyable & uplifting Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks