Double Mitzvah – VaEtchanan

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Tamar Fox. Check out last week’s post in this series, Double Mitzvah – Devarim.

Rated PGThis week’s parashah contains more of Moses reviewing the past for the Israelites, reminding them of the error of their ways, and guiding them for the future. Among other things, he repeats the Ten Commandments for them, and gives them the Shema, one of the central prayers of Judaism.

Immediately after the Shema, the Israelites receive a difficult commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut. 6:5) This verse is part of the first paragraph after the Shema, recited three times daily in Jewish prayer. I’ve said it thousands of times before, and yet it wasn’t until recently that I began to wonder about the feasibility of this commandment. How can God command us to love God? Or perhaps more pointedly: Can love be commanded? Demanded?

I do not think we can be commanded or in any way impelled to love another person. Love is complex and varied and fluid, and it seems clear to me that we cannot force ourselves to love another person. When we love someone, we can’t even force ourselves to keep loving them.

But God is different. I think if we invest a lot of time and energy in a relationship with God, we can impell ourselves to love God. But doing so requires putting all of your heart, and soul, and might, into it, and that’s a huge job. Bigger than a lot of people are willing to deal with.

I bring this up because I think most people reading the Torah have a tendency to equate a person’s relationship with God with some other kind of relationship. Sometimes a parental relationship, other times a romantic partnership. But I don’t think one’s relationship with God is like that at all. Right before we get the commandment to love God, we receive the Shema, which reminds us that God is one. God is unique, different from everything else we know. Different from every other relationship we know.

Shabbat shalom!

Author of Jewrotica's Double Mitzvah column, Tamar Fox is a writer and editor in Philadelphia. She will try anything once, including open relationships, dating someone who is chalav yisrael, and going to Suriname.