The second portion of Deuteronomy is classic. The Ten Commandments are repeated (5) and we meet in chapter 6 the Sh’ma and V’ahavta. There is so much to unpack here and no doubt, many of you will spend much of your Shabbat morning Torah study on either or both of these issues. But let me focus for our little moment together on the issue of love.
The ayin and daled of the Sh’ma are written larger. They form the word for witness. So, obviously, the tradition asks what does that mean to witness. We know this means not always in the court, but, in life. So, we are constantly being asked how we live so as to be a “witness” to or for what is sacred? It may be seen as a reference to God’s first question in Genesis 3 of ayeka: where are you? Where are we in our life, especially now in the midst of the sheltering in place induced pandemic? How can we live so as to be a witness for God? The answer is not “blowing in the wind” but drawn from the portion, for we are commanded to “love” God with all that we have (a hint also to the holistic view of life that Judaism represents).
How can we do that? One of the things that we are learning from this pandemic is the value of reconnecting with and strengthening relationships. People have begun to take some time to re-evaluate whre they are in life and what real priorities are. Increasingly people are having the courage (the love and respect of self) to embark on their own spiritual journey. It is a way of expeirencing the sacred. Mordecai Kaplan: “the only way each of us can experience God’s reality is by actively undertaking own own personal spiritual journey…the spiritual challenge is to continually discover, and thereby demonstrate what it means to ‘love God with all our heart and soul and might.” (A Year WIth Mordecai Kaplan. p.180)
This portion speaks of love and love of God (no matter how you define that) really means to see the sacred in each relationship, and to be that “witness” in the world for those values that bring the sacred to bear in real time. We never have needed this more than now. As the month of Elul beckons and as we turn to approach the High Holidays, there has never been a better time to have a conversation with our own soul and to ask where we are on our own spiritual journey. There has never been a better time to throw back the curtain of fear that prevents so many from beginning that journey of faith. The search is its own reward and the time for that first step is now.
Rabbi Richard F Address