This Shabbat we read that famous words of the Shma. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is 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./שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל: ה’ אֱלֹקינוּ, ה’ אֶחָד. וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶךָ.” (Deut. 6:4-5). There are those who question, “how can you command somebody to love?” Certainly, we can understand this on the family level. When many of us were young children, we were told to love our brothers or sisters, or told to say, “I love you” to other relatives. We were taught that we were supposed to love certain people. Yet, this verse feels different and seems to be asking something much more than that.
The Sfas Emes* teaches (Va’Ethanan 5648-9) that this commandment/mitzvah is a heavenly gift, that through Torah and mitzvot love can be stirred up in a person. Shabbat is called a “great gift”**, for Shabbat is considered, qualitatively, as Love. As is well known in other Hasidic materials, the six days of the week are of the quality of Awe, and Shabbat is Love. Making it through the six days of Awe causes one to merit the Love of Shabbat. And from the Love that one experiences on Shabbat, Awe is added to his/her behavior during the week, as the Rabbis explain (Tanna Devei Eliyahu), “I feared because I rejoiced, and I rejoiced because I feared/יראתי מתוך ששמחתי ושמחתי מתוך שיראתי.” Our joyous rest on Shabbat should grow because of the work we do during the week, and, the love we feel on Shabbat should inspire us to work harder during the seemingly mundane weekdays that follow.
Being commanded to love is tough for many of us. Ultimately, to fulfill this on a daily basis, one needs to accept this commandment seriously. Doing as commanded, or “because I said so” is difficult. However, showing this kind of discipline, the day-in day-out performance of mitzvot has its rewards. Many of us know the joy of Shabbat and the “big moments” of Jewish life. Those are good and important and we should continue to strive to make them a part of our lives. And that is only part of the picture. Robert De Niro said it best in A Bronx Tale, “...try and get up every morning, day after day and work for a living...the working man is the tough guy.”
It takes a commitment to make Shabbat and holidays a part of our lives. But our work/avodah is more than that. We are charged with the task of doing mitzvot and bringing God and Torah with us everywhere that we go, every day of the week. “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates/וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם עַל-לְבָבֶךָ. וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם, בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ. וּקְשַׁרְתָּם לְאוֹת עַל-יָדֶך; וְהָיוּ לְטֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ. וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל מְזֻזוֹת בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ.” (Deut. 6:6-9). This week, let us renew our acceptance of this mitzvah. Let’s wake up every morning and go to work.
*Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (Hebrew יהודה אריה ליב אלתר, 15 April 1847 – 11 January 1905), also known by the title of his main work, the Sfas Emes (Yiddish) or Sefat Emet שפת אמת (Hebrew), was a Hasidic rabbi who succeeded his grandfather, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, as the Av beis din (head of the rabbinical court) and Rav of Góra Kalwaria, Poland (known in Yiddish as the town of Ger), and succeeded Rabbi Chanokh Heynekh HaKohen Levin of Aleksander as Rebbe of the Gerrer Hasidim.
**This comes from BT Shabbat 10b, “the Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Moses: I have a good gift in My treasure house and Shabbat is its name, and I seek to give it to Israel/א"ל הקב"ה למשה: מתנה טובה יש לי בבית גנזי ושבת שמה ואני מבקש ליתנה לישראל .”
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.