For the past little while on foundations, we’ve been learning about Shema and in particular the elements that make up Shema. What exactly is Shema? Shema is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. (“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.)
On our last program we began looking at what Shema meant when it said to love God with all our soul and the Hebrew word for soul is ‘nephesh’.
Loving God with your nephesh means a willingness to even sacrifice your very life for Him if need be, in fact, Jews who are able to, will quote Shema on their death bed as a final commitment to God.
This is the kind of love Jesus loved us with; He loved the Father supremely and even though humanity was His enemy through sin, He obeyed the Father with unwavering loyalty, and to the human race who hates Him, He loved them with His whole life. He loved them with His words, He loved them through His ministry of healings and amazing signs and He loved them through giving His entire life via torture and crucifixion which He endured because of hatred and jealousy.
Jesus is our example and it’s not an easy one.
There is a word in Hebrew to describe love that’s not in Shema but it describes completely what Shema is trying to communicate, it’s the word ‘hesed’.
Hesed is a love that is so enduring and persistent that it will last long beyond the most extreme sin and the worst kind of betrayal; it can reach beyond such pain and brokenness to extend grace and mercy and forgiveness.
Hesed is very often active love and is translated as mercy and lovingkindness but even these words don’t really adequately explain its meaning.
Lois Tverberg describes hesed this way, “Hesed is a bone-weary father who drives through the night to bail is drug-addicted son out of jail. Hesed is a mum who spends day after thankless day spoon-feeding and wiping up after a disabled child. Hesed is an unsung pastor’s wife whose long-suffering, tearful prayers keep her exhausted husband from falling apart at the seams. Hesed is love that can be counted on, decade after decade. It’s not about the thrill of romance but the security of faithfulness.”
That’s the kind of love our God has for us and it’s the love we’re called to demonstrate to Him – which is His due – but because His Spirit indwells us, it’s the same kind of love we’re supposed to in turn demonstrate toward others. This is the highest form of love, and in the human environment it’s the least practiced.
Another part of Shema is to love God with all your might or some translations say strength. The Hebrew word used here is ‘me’od’, and it’s the Hebrew word used for ‘very’. So the line in Shema that says with all your might should actually read, ‘With all your very’ which to our understanding doesn’t make any sense at all.
In Hebrew if someone asked “Mah Shlomkha?” they would be asking “How are you?” and the response would be “Tov me’od” which is very good. Tov is good, and me’od is very.
To understand what Scripture means when Shema says to love the Lord with all your very, it’s like saying with all your oomph; to love God earnestly, zealously, enthusiastically and often our translations use the word strength or might. ‘Me’od’ can also be expressed as much-ness.
There even used to be an interpretation of the word me’od to also mean mammon or money which could bring another dimension to Jesus’s words by saying to love the Lord with all your increase.
What this word is expressing is that we are to love the Lord with everything the Lord has blessed us with. Our physical body, our emotions, our words, the possessions we own, the resources at our disposal…our ‘very’ our ‘me’od’. It’s that complete and all-encompassing whole of who we are as a human entity.
If we were to give Shema a current day rendering it might sound something like this;
“Listen Israel, the Lord is your God, He and He alone! You shall love Him with every thought you think, live every hour of every day for Him, be willing to give your life for Him. Love Him with every penny in your wallet and with everything you’ve got. And love others the same way.”
This was God’s expectation of His people during Old (First) Testament times and Jesus reinforced it for everyone during His time right up to today. This command has no used by date.
That’s a big ask of any frail human being. But God has placed His Spirit within us and He equips us so that we can in fact obey Him and His command to love Him supremely which means it’s not the impossible task it is at first read. Without Him we cannot love Him this way and we certainly can’t love others either, but with His Word as our guide and His Spirit indwelling and empowering us, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
(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)