Listen = Love
Posted on August 3, 2017
You are all familiar with the most important text in this week’s Torah portion of Va’etchanan. It might be the very first Hebrew words you ever learned: Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad – Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Most commentary on the Shema focuses on the word Echad, One, the core idea of our belief in one God, monotheism itself. But for me the most interesting word in the Shema is not the word Echad, “one”; no, the most interesting word in that seminal sentence is the very first word, Shema.
What does Shema mean? Essentially, it means “listen” – or, since it is in the Tzivui, the command form of Hebrew, it means “Listen up! Pay attention! Hear what is about to be said.” So why was it necessary to order the Israelite people to listen?
Well, of course, if everyone was always listening we would never have to command that. No one insists that people pay attention when they already are doing so.
This is a verbal effort to grab the wandering focus of the Israelites and get them to hear what is about to be said. Listen! Pay attention! This is important! And with the Jewish people that is never an unnecessary summons.
It is also crucial that the next commandment after the command to Shema, to listen, is the V'Ahavta – the commandment to love God. First, we are told to listen, and next to love. It's a fascinating sequence. The first, “Listen!” is a command that we can easily perform. We can be compelled to listen.
But how anyone be commanded to love?
Love, by definition, is voluntary. It must be given freely, generously, instinctively, emotionally, or it is not love at all. As the great Jewish theologian, Franz Rosenzweig, said "Of course, love cannot be commanded. No third party can command it or extort it." So how is it possible for God to command us to love?
The answer is right here in the familiar words of the Shema. We are actually being commanded to listen, because if we truly listen we cannot help but love. There is something precious, beautiful, and sacred about listening that allows us to love. Without listening, we as human beings are not capable of love.
For actual love to exist we must listen to the other person. Not just their words or their joys, but their feelings, their pain, their inner messages. It is only through listening that we find out what makes their lives meaningful, and so can come to understand them, and truly love them.
This week is also Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Consolation after the commemoration of Tisha B'Av, the ninth of Av, our remembrance of the destruction of both Temples. The great prophet Second Isaiah begins this week’s Haftara "nachamu, nachamu ami – be comforted be comforted my people."
And how does God comfort the people? Isaiah promises repeatedly that God has heard the people's pain, and since God has listened, it is absolutely certain that God loves the people and will relieve their pain.
At times of great loss, often the only comfort comes from knowing that someone is really listening – and can therefore supply the love that we all need to survive.
We know that our relationship with God is supposed to mirror our relationships with each other. In the Book of Leviticus, earlier in the Torah, has already commanded us to love other people, ve’Ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha, love your neighbor as yourself. Only now in Deuteronomy does the Torah tell us to love God.
There is a great lesson in this sequence. For only after we have learned to listen to others, and to love them, can we come to listen to God, and so to love God. Only after we teach ourselves to listen, can we truly love.
May we remember this week to listen to those around us, and so affirm our love for them—and, therefore, for God.
Please join us for our Monsoon Membership Madness kick-off Chardonnay Shabbat pre-Oneg, Service, and Free Cookout Dinner this Friday night starting at 5 PM! Bring a friend who might join Temple. I’ll be speaking about my recent trip to Israel, and the latest controversy over the Temple Mount. Call 327-4501, or go to our website tetucson.org to sign up!
And don’t miss our Wandering Jews’ Hike and Shabbat morning service on Mt. Lemmon from Marshall Gulch; meet there at 8 AM, or carpool from the McDonald’s at Bear Canyon starting at 7 AM.