In our previous program we began looking at the meaning of the word love that is mentioned in Shema. What is ‘Shema’?
“Shema Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echad. Barukh shem kevod malkhuto le’olam va’ed” (Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.)
We also learned about Viktor Frankl’s experience surviving the Auschwitz death camp where he suffered terribly in appalling conditions, his hope being that his wife and family were faring better than him. He held onto that hope not realising that his wife and family had all been murdered by the Nazis. The one very special thing that gave him hope and fleeting moments of bliss, was when he remembered his wife, her beautiful face and the way she would smile and that helped him through the torment he endured every day. His love for his wife.
Where we finished off yesterday was in learning that the love commanded by God in Shema, is a command to action, rather than simply an emotion. How can love be commanded? So we looked at the Hebrew word ‘ve-ahavtah’ which literally means ‘and you shall love’, speaking of a future command to love God.
Ancient treaties between a king and his enemy were a signed covenantal agreement where the enemy would pledge to ‘love’ the king he was making the agreement with. This was a pledge of loyalty not necessarily to hold warm feelings toward the monarch.
When the Israelites responded to the 10 commandments given them by Moses, they didn’t respond with warm gushy feelings, they responded by promising to obey them.
So loving God doesn’t necessarily command warm affection and feelings from those who worship Him, it’s a command of loyalty and faithful acts of devotion and obedience. This doesn’t mean emotions aren’t important, but we usually get these priorities around the wrong way; we want to feel the emotions and then follow those up with actions when in actuality, we’re to respond to God with faithful and loyal actions of devotion to the One and Only God, and the emotions then follow.
Remember king David, who for most of his life had been faithful in his behaviour and actions toward God (apart from a few glaringly abysmal sins) one day just spontaneously burst into joyful dance in the streets, casting aside his royal robes, giving up decorum for the sheer joy and love he felt for his God. For many, many years before he came to the throne, David lived in exile and fear for his life and was defamed and insulted by king Saul. He was a fugitive on the run and often felt misery which is blatantly obvious when reading the Psalms he wrote, but his feelings never prevented him from loving God supremely in both word and deed.
The entire encompassing definition of the word ‘love’ includes loving others in action not just with mental ascent and emotional feelings.
The truth is that we are not capable of loving God and other people simply by holding warm feelings and always thinking nice things toward them; love according to God’s definition means getting up and doing something that demonstrates love; love via action. Love is both warm feelings and the actions that they come from.
This is why Jesus said in Luke 6:27 that we are to love our enemies and do good to those who hate and persecute you. It doesn’t mean we’re to have warm fuzzy feelings toward them, it means to treat them with faithful loyalty and to commit to acts of kindness that demonstrate love. Living a life of love toward an enemy means treating them fairly, praying for them and never seeking revenge no matter how unkind or hurtful they’ve been to you.
It doesn’t mean foolishly thinking they’re nice people and are deserving of acts of kindness, demonstrating acts of kindness to an enemy demonstrates the kind of love God places inside His children that in actuality confounds the enemy.
‘With all your heart…’
To the Western mind when we refer to the heart we think of emotions and even delineate between our ‘head and our heart’ to point out the differences between emotions and rational thinking. But in Hebrew, ‘lev’ or ‘levav’ is referring to emotions, as well as the mind and thoughts. It is in fact referring to all the inner life. So this phrase could be read as ‘with all your inner life’.
This brings greater understanding to passages like Deut 6:6 that says, ‘These words, which I am ordering you today, are to be on your heart’ and in practice this means that these commandments are to be a part of all your thoughts. Proverbs 16:23 says, ‘The wise man’s heart teaches his mouth, and to his lips it adds learning,’ which means that the wise person thinks before speaking so that he can be persuasive when he does speak. So whenever you read ‘heart’ in the OT (first testament), it should be considered as referring to the intellect as well as the emotions because in Hebrew is can also be referring to the mind.
So not only should our actions and our emotions be engaged in our love of God but so should our thoughts.
In both ancient days as well as today, it is a common practice for Orthodox Jews and Rabbis to memorise enormous amounts of Scripture and commentaries which they can recite at any time. This is not such a common habit among the church, but this habit of memorising the Bible has meant total engagement of the thoughts and minds of those learning it.
If we learned more of the Word of God so that our mind (heart) was focused on it, our lives would be a far greater picture of a life lived in worship and adoration of God first as well as other people that we interact with.
In the next program we’ll look at what Shema means when it says we are to love God with all our soul.
(These studies are based on the book ‘Walking In The Dust Of Rabbi Jesus: How The Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life’ by Lois Tverberg)