For the love of God

For the love of God

Va-etchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11

“Then God Eternal fashioned the man — dust from the soil — and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, so that man became a living being.”

— (Genesis 2:7)

Ahava is the Hebrew word for “love.” If you listen closely to the word, ahava is the sound of breathing. Ahh-Hahh-Vahh.

The first syllable is an exhalation. The second syllable is an inhalation. The third syllable, va, has its own distinct meaning in Hebrew: “came.”

God exhaled, man inhaled, love came. No other word comes forth from the mouth so easily. No other word connects us so naturally to God. God’s gift of life is a gift of love.

Yet the Book of Genesis also teaches that love may also flow too easily from the lips. “Love” is the precise feeling that Abraham felt for Isaac, that Isaac felt for Rebecca, and Jacob felt for Rachel. Yet love precisely also sowed seeds of family enmity. Rebecca loved Jacob, but Isaac loved Esau. Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other children. Implicitly the Torah teaches a principle of effective parenting: Parents should never show favorites.

Finally in Genesis, with Isaac’s love of venison stew, the use of the word “love” sinks to its lowest level — the bottom of Isaac’s belly — exacerbating an insidious case of family agita.

Thus the Torah implies another principle of effective parenting: When parents use one and the same word to describe their feelings toward, let’s say, sushi, a new smart phone, the Steelers, and their children, what are children supposed to make of love?

From the beginning, love was intended to bond us emotionally to one another, and to bond us spiritually to God. Every time we misuse the word love, these precious bonds dwindle.

After the Book of Genesis, the Torah is much more discreet and focused in its use of love. Love appears again in Leviticus with the Golden Rule, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)

Then love appears in Deuteronomy here in our Torah portion as the quintessence of this sublime, divine emotion: “You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

So do you? In fairness to you, do we?

If not for the love of God, we wouldn’t be here. God’s gift of love is our gift of life. Our heart, our soul, our might are merely some of the many gifts of love that God has given us. Hear O Israel, how can we do anything less than to love God in return with all our heart, our soul and our might?

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)