Parashat Va'et'hanan

Loving God By Acting With Compassion

Our affirmation of the unity of God and our love for God serve as fundamental grounding principles for social action.

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"Adonai in a sense is fighting Elohim to let people live. You look at Elohim--you see disease, earthquakes, people dying. If you didn't find a trace of Adonai, you'd be living in a godless world. But the Adonai side is the difficult side. Mordecai Kaplan would say that you have to seek out those aspects of reality that make for salvation. There is a verse in [this week's portion of] the Torah that says: 'You will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and spirit' (Deuteronomy 4:29)."

The opening of the Sh'ma calls on us to develop this understanding as a community. As Harold Fisch has written in Poetry With a Purpose, "The divine unity is realized only when there is a community of hearers to achieve that perception, to make that affirmation; it is a perception that has to be striven for, created in the act of reading, hearing, and understanding."

How do we actualize that understanding of divine unity? The answer comes immediately following the Sh'ma: through love. "Ve'ahavta et Adonai Elohecha, you shall love the Lord your God."

One wonders how the Torah can command a person to love. Rabbi Norman Lamm in his book The Shema, cites Rabbi Shneur Zalman as saying: "We are not commanded to impose upon ourselves an extraneous, extra-human sentiment; rather, this love for God already exists in potential form... within our soul. The mitzvah to love God demands that we remove all obstacles and impediments that interfere with our free and open expression of that love."

An ancient book of midrash offers another interpretation of "ve'ahavta." The Sifre interprets "you shall love the Lord your God" as meaning: you shall cause God to be beloved by human beings. Perhaps, then, the "ve'ahavta" in this week's parasha is predicated on another ve'ahavta from the Book of Leviticus: "Ve'ahavta le'rayacha kamokha, you shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Only by acting in the world with compassion, and treating one another with justice and equality will the healing aspects of God become manifest and draw others to a deeper understanding and love of God. To "love God" we must act with loving intention towards all of Creation.

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Gilah Langer

Gilah Langner is a consultant and mother living in Washington, DC. She is co-editor of Kerem: Creative Explorations in Judaism.