Parshat Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25
Vehaya Im Shamoah Tishmiu El Mitzvoisai.
The second paragraph of the famous prayer of Shema is found in this week’s Torah portion. In it we are told that if we follow through with all that G-d has commanded us, we will receive an abundance of blessings from heaven.
G-d seems to value our deeds so much so that everything we receive from him ultimately depends on how we act toward Him. But more so than actions, in the first paragraph of the Shema, G-d seems to value our love.
The prayer of Shema begins:
Shemah Yisroel Hashem Elokainu Hashem Echad. We affirm our belief that G-d is one. We affirm our belief that only He is the true existence of all beings.
Immediately thereafter, we continue with the verse, “You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.” What is this obsession with love? Can’t we believe in him without loving him? Can’t we follow in his ways, recognize his existence without absolutely loving Him?
Why is it so important to G-d that we love Him too? Aren’t the deeds what really count?
Our sages teach us that G-d created this world in order to have a dwelling place for Himself. Upon creation he left some imperfections. He placed us here with the intention that we would perfect it. Through his commandments, He gave us instructions of how to do so. Through following His instructions, we will perfect the world, ushering in an era when G-d Himself will dwell among us on this physical world.
Why then did G-d not create this perfect dwelling place Himself? Did he really need us to come and pick up where he left off? Couldn’t He have done it better than anyone of us?
Before G-d created this world, there was one thing he did not have. G-d did not have a relationship. When we proclaim the oneness of G-d in the Shema, we are saying there is nothing aside from him. Before creation, that was true on a very literal level. There was nobody for G-d to forge a relationship with. But G-d wanted to have a relationship. He want to interact with free-thinking beings that make their own choices. So G-d created us.
But how can a creation like us relate to G-d? In order to facilitate that, G-d gave us a way to relate to him. Follow my commandments and do as I wish. This will create a relationship between The Creator and His creations. Like the student who follows the instructions of his brilliant teacher. By doing so, he enters the world of his teacher.
And that is where love comes in. True love is love that leads to actions. The most treasured friendships, love between husband and wife or mother and son, all compel us to act in a way that our loved one desires. When there is true love, you begin to do what your loved one desires even without being asked!
This is what G-d desired from us. Recognition is nice, but He wanted more. He wanted a relationship. By sharing with us his commandments, he gave us an insight in how to have that relationship. He told us what He desires. When we have true love, we will do just that. Thus fulfilling the purpose of our creation, having a relationship with Him.
As we go about our lives and we get caught up in the daily grind, we often lose sight of why we were created in the first place. We put our relationship with the world first and with G-d second. How ironic. The very thing that was created to help us forge our relationship with G-d ends up getting in the way.
When we say the Shema prayer daily, it is an opportunity to pause and reflect. It reminds us why we are here in this world. To have a relationship with G-d by loving Him and doing his commandments. Let’s not deprive our Creator of the only thing that we can give Him.
Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld is executive director of Yeshiva Schools and of Chabad of Western Pennsylvania. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.