Commanded to Love?
The Shema prayer is, as we will discuss at this Friday's Schmooze, Pray, Learn Shabbat, not only central to our Friday evening service, it is at the very heart of Judaism. The Jew is to recite it morning and evening, on going to bed, even as one is about to pass on from this world.
And after proclaiming, "Hear O Israel, the Lord is Our God, the Lord is One," we proceed to the V'ahavta, "and you shall love the Lord thy God..."
This line seems to be saying that as a result of acknowledging God's sovereignty, you are then compelled to love God.
But love can't be commanded, can it? I would say no, it cannot be. Elsewhere in Judaism we find this to be implied. For example, it doesn't matter nearly as much the motivation or emotion behind your doing a mitzvah, as your actually doing it.
Love can't be commanded. It is greater than a commandment. The commentator Sforno explains it best, "you shall rejoice to do what is good in God's eyes once you discern there is no nobler goal than this."
Until one falls in love the experience can't truly be explained. Until you have that grandchild, you can't imagine loving someone so much (or so I am told).
This doesn't mean no work is required. The love a couple might feel after years of marriage will be greater than that first "stomach butterflies" love, but only because of the commitment and responsibility the years have brought to strengthen it.
So to with God. The V'ahavta is encouraging us to believe. To believe that accepting a life in which God plays a role, guides us and teaches us and even obligates us, will ultimately be realized as a life of love. Love for the Creator of All, who gave us the blessing to experience love as the trait which ennobles our lives and relationships, our choices and duties, giving them the greatest purpose and meaning.
If you can join us this Friday evening, we'll learn some more about the Shema. In the meantime, think of those things and people you love deeply and truly. And then see if you can't begin to bring some of that emotion into the other parts of your life.