Wednesday, June 14, 2006

and you shall love

in the book of deuteronomy, chapter 6, verse 5, the torah says:

"v'ahavta et adonai elohecha
and you shall love adonai your god"

in our liturgy, these words follow the shema, and continue with a description of practical ways to work on one's relationship with adonai. i have been thinking about this verse quite a lot recently, especially the first word.

when i work with bar & batmitzvah students, it is important to me that we discuss the meaning of the prayers as well as perfect the reading of them. of course they don't have to agree with or believe in anything i or the prayerbook say. i do, however, insist that we talk about the whys and why nots. a parrot could read the prayers. i do not want my students to be parrots.

nu - i ask my student: "what does it mean - and you shall love?" they usually answer very properly: "you're supposed to love god." or something like that. "so *do* you love god?" "well, er, yeah, i dunno, i suppose, whatever ..." etc.

here's the thing ... when i think about love in my life - the people i love and who love me - it doesn't just happen overnight. when i was born, all i knew was waaaah hungry waaaaah wet waaaaah poohy waaaaah tired. i had to learn about trust and caring and kindness; and whence they came. as i got older i had to learn how to be trustworthy and kind myself. in any relationship we may have an initial attraction/connection, but what makes it healthy and lasting is working on it and developing it. why should it be any different with god or the divine or whatever your name is for the energy that i choose to refer to as god?

so i talk with the kids about their parents and how their relationship has developed over the last few years. and then i ask - why should it be any different with god? i say that in my experience many people assume that "v'ahavta - you shall love" is a command ordering you to do this. but love can't be commanded. respect may be commanded, but not love. so what might this word mean?

when you look at the hebrew (apologies to my dikdook klassi teacher yossi that i no longer remember the correct grammatical phrases) the verb 'to love' is the second person singular past tense, but the vav in front of it turns it into a future tense. what's the big deal? you *shall* love, i.e, in the future, i.e., as the relationship develops. it is the beginning of a process, and the rest of the passage lists a number of practical actions one may do to that end.

when the students realise that, rather than being a demand to do something that currently makes no sense to them, this is actually a suggestion that may guide them to find some meaning in their religious tradition, they think it's pretty cool. i do too.


  1. Deborah7:23 pm

    thank you, ariel, for your thoughtful words. not only is there a point, but the blog allows you to share the process by which you got there. it is so nice that you have a place to put your words these days, as i have missed reading your sermons. you are such a gifted teacher, and i am certain that all bmitz students who have worked with you toward their special day will long remember at least one tidbit from that experience. maybe this one. hopefully more.

  2. hey deb
    you are too kind *blush*
    this stuff is a lot less formal than the sermons of the olden days - kind of stream-of-consciousness - i am enjoying thinking out loud and glad you are too