D’var Torah: Parshat Vaetchanan -What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Our relationship with God: What’s love got to do with it? Tina Turner might argue, unconvincingly even to herself, that it is a secondhand emotion. Yet I think the idea of loving God, or being loved by God, is a concept that is hard to grasp but important to consider.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vaetchanan, we read again the first paragraph of the Shema, known as the V’ahavta paragraph. It commands, “And you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.” It then says that we should express this love by following God’s commandments. It feels strange to think that love is something that is commanded and tied to obedience. I think the rabbis, feeling this tension, added the Ahava Rabbah prayer during the morning prayer service right before the Shema. That prayer proclaims that God has loved us with great compassion, and it is out of love that God gave us life-giving laws. Perhaps leading into the Shema with the notion that God expressed love first softens the commanded aspect of loving God.

Love is a very sophisticated, varying and powerful feeling. It means different things to different people and grows for different reasons. For many, love is the most powerful force. I find this exchange between Voldemort and Dumbledore very interesting:

“The old argument,” [Voldemort] said softly. “But nothing I have seen in the world has supported your pronouncements that love is more powerful than my kind of magic, Dumbledore.”

“Perhaps you have been looking in the wrong places,” suggested Dumbledore.

But what do commandments – limits and rules – have to do with love? What is the case for loving God? First, God gave to us and met our needs. This is evidenced by the creation of the world, our emancipation from Egypt and the miracles wrought in the desert to feed and protect us. This is somewhat similar to what parents do for young children, and their nurturing of them does build a loving connection.

Additionally, the “life-giving laws” that God gave us are ways to live morally; they guide us to set up a society that is just and communities that are nurturing. Laws like observing Shabbat and holidays require us to set aside time for family and to live spiritual as well as corporeal lives. Just like some of the rules our children may find restrictive, these laws provide boundaries that allow for individual development. We may not enjoy our parents’ restrictions at the time, but later we appreciate the fact that our parents did this for us. So too with God’s laws.

I think attraction starts in many different ways, but love is something that grows over time. It is through deep connections, experiencing life together, and doing things for each other that true love develops. Our rabbis, through teaching Torah and developing tefilot, are trying to lay out a framework for building a loving relationship with God. It is worthy for us to think about how we do that today and what love does have to do with it. Shabbat Shalom.