Shabbat-Table Talks: Va'ethanan

By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <tawil@bezeqint.net>

[This week's Table Talks is dedicated in honor of Grandma Sarah Benun by her grandchildren, may she have a refuah sh'lemah.]

 

Value: Loving God. This value is an essential part of Jewish living. Reflecting upon this value with our family can lead to a deeper sensitivity to the people in our lives and allows us to better navigate life's ups and downs. Thinking about the ways to increase the love of God in our lives leads to a fuller, more aware and meaningful existence.

Context: Throughout the book of Debarim we read of Moshe's final speech to Israel. Each idea of this speech is like a jewel whose many facets we should explore with our family. In this week's perasha, Moshe speaks words that are so important that they have been included in our daily prayers as the "Qeriat Shem'a." When a prayer becomes so familiar to us we can occasionally forget to focus on the deep insight that is contained in its words. Let us spend a few minutes and discuss the meaning behind the familiar words of the first section of the "Shem'a."

Text: Debarim 6:4-9

Hear, O Israel. Hashem is our God, Hashem is One. And you shall love Hashem your God with all your heart and with all your being and with all your might. And these words that I command to you this day shall be in your heart: and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way; when you lie down and when you rise. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the posts of your house and upon your gates.

Discussion: What does it mean to love God?

The idea of having such powerful emotions for God might seem a little strange for our children and for us. After all, we do not even see Him. We should take some time to explain the idea. How do we know God exists if we cannot see Him? We experience so many good things in life. These are the things that God has given us. If we love those things, we should love God that gave us them.

How can the Torah command an emotion? How can we create this emotion in us and in our children. Rambam answered this question:

What is the way to love and revere God? When a person reflects upon God's wonderful actions and fantastic creations, and he sees His unbounded intelligence. He immediately loves, praises and glorifies [God] and has a tremendous yearning to know the living God. As King David said (In Psalms 42:3) My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (Laws of the Fundamentals of Torah, 2:2)

Rambam directs us to examine the wonders of the natural world in order to come to a love of God. We should constantly help our children do this using the books that we read to them and the trips that we take to point out the wonders of creation. A discussion about the wonders contained in the functioning of our bodies can inspire in our children a love of God.

We love God by focussing on His actions in the world. This creates an awareness of the things that we take for granted.

[In another section, Rambam describes the feelings of love towards God as a person's obsession for his beloved. This obsession is constant and all consuming such that every one of a person's actions and thoughts is imbued with the thought of his beloved. This is Rambam's expression of the words "with all your heart and all your being and all your might" found in the Shem'a.]

What are the ways that we can express this love in our actions?

The continuation of the Shem'a has in it the actions that we should do to express this love. Speaking about God's Torah constantly, regardless of where you are. Teaching your children Torah. Writing the words of the Torah on our doorposts and on the gates of our cities. These are the ways we show our love of God.

The idea of love of God follows the statement that God is "one." God should be the only one in our lives. The one to whom we turn in prayer even as we exhaust all "natural" means to accomplish our end.

One extension of the idea of loving God is to love his creations, including his human creations, which are of His most special. When we constantly focus on the fact that each human being is a special creation of God, one that is made "in His image." We remember that His image can have so many different and interesting manifestations. In fact, when we meet someone with whom we disagree, we should focus on how great is God's oneness. God's unity can even include such diverse opinions as my opinion and that of my contender. In this way, love of God can translate into love of our fellow man, even with those with whom we disagree.

 

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Shabbat Table Talks is a publication of the Sephardic Orthodox Union.