Parashat Va'et'hanan

Love The Lord

Moses' message to relate to God through love, not only through fear, is especially relevant in the modern age.

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So, too, those who serve God primarily through fear do so only as long as it "works" for them. Once they no longer see their service as exempting them from the hazards and disappointments of life, their inducement for serving God also stops.

Perhaps it was for this reason that Maimonides (12th century Spain and Egypt) insisted that serving God out of fear is not "the standard set by the prophets and sages." At best, he claims, it is a useful educational measure "until their knowledge shall have increased when they will serve out of love."

What was true then is even more true now. Modernity, with its insistence on the worth of the individual, on the ability of humanity to progress, has moved us beyond the utility of fear as a functional training device. If Jews who wish to be modern also desire to draw close to God, they will do so out of love. What is crucial, then, is to become open to perceiving that love. Through the beauty of nature around us, we can experience God's love as Creator.

Through profundity of our sacred Jewish heritage, we can integrate God's love as the honen da'at, the One who bestows wisdom. Through the performance of mitzvot (commandments), we can takken olam be-malkhut Shaddai, repair the world under the sovereignty of God. And through the acts of compassion and caring from those we love and our community, we can experience God as the Gomel Hesed, the one who bestows lovingkindness.

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.