26 Aug 2016

Ekeb 5776 Love and Deed

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“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good
as far as it can be obtained” 
— C.S. Lewis

Love is a prominent theme in Moshe’s last address to the nation. The different forms of the word אהבה/love occur more here in the book of Debarim than in any of the other four books of the Torah. He speaks of G-d’s love for the people and of the importance of the people’s love for G-d. Moshe waits until the end of his days to focus on the concept of love knowing that beforehand the nation was not mature enough to begin absorbing it.

Now Moshe called all Israel together and said to them: You yourselves have seen all that G-d did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, to all his servants and to all the land…those great signs…But G-d has not given you a heart to know or eyes to see or ears to hear, until this day. (29:1-3)

An important attribute of the love of which Moshe speaks is that it is primarily active as opposed to emotive.

Immediately following the first mention of G-d’s love in Ekeb are the deeds that expressed the love:

He will love you: He will bless you, He will make you many, He will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your soil, your grain, your wine, and your shining-oil, the offspring of your cattle and the fecundity of your sheep…there shall not be among you any barren-male or barren-female, nor among your animals. G-d will remove all sickness and all evil illnesses…do not be terrified before [your enemies] for G-d your Lord is among you…your G-d will remove these nations before you….(7:13-15, 21-22)

The deeds are presented as the manifestations of love. Ekeb thus tells us that love is primarily action, not emotion. That is not to say that profound emotion is not part of love, but it is often at its most substantial levels when the emotion is nurtured and strengthened out of consistent, dedicated attention and deed rather than when the emotion is the entirety of its manifestation.

Of course, when we are dealing with G-d, we could hardly understand love as being anything other than deed and attention. G-d, after all, has no emotions!

[G-d has] no anger, no laughter, no happiness nor sadness…. (Rambam, Mishne Torah[1])

And while we are meant to relate to Him as having emotions, that is only in the sense of our experience through our interactions with Him. When we feel thought of, cared for, supported, embraced, assisted and protected, we may feel loved but more importantly, we are loved. And when we feel that the world itself is acting that way towards us it is entirely appropriate to say that G-d is loving us. To say, however, that G-d feels love for us would be a fundamental misunderstanding as He does not feel anything, being that feelings are human and physically based.

My thoughts are not your thoughts nor are your ways mine, says G-d. (Isaiah, 55:8) 

To whom can one compare G-d? (ibid., 40:18)

We, in turn, are implored in our more mature state to do rather than just feel.  Many of us feel love for others but it is one thing to feel it and another entirely to act in line with it. 

Love is an activity; if I love, I am in a constant state of active concern with the loved person, but not only with him or her. For I shall become incapable of relating myself actively to the loved person if I am lazy, if I am not in a constant state of
awareness, alertness, activity. (Erich Fromm, “The Art of Loving.”)

With G-d, therefore, we are not just told to feel love for Him, but to act, to serve:

And now, Israel, what does G-d your Lord ask of you? Except…to love Him and to serve your G-d with all your heart and all your being…(10:12)

 Now it shall be if you hearken to my commandments…to love G-d your Lord and to serve Him with all your heart and all your being…(11:13)

 Love your G-d, keep His charge…all of the days. (11:1)

Moshe is teaching us that loving means putting forth effort, taking time, giving attention and dedicating oneself to the spiritual, emotional, and psychological growth of another person. Doing so creates the celebration of another’s individuality and the commitment to cultivate and nurture it. Most important, it is the willingness to open oneself to care for another.

Thus loving a child is spending time with that child, putting forth the effort to learn about the child’s needs and nature and balancing our own desires for the child with what the child genuinely needs. Loving a partner is being present and supportive in their times of need, being physically affectionate, identifying the unique person that he or she is and nurturing their growth and success. Of course, love is so much more than words can describe, because above all, love is sharing one’s being with another in a way that allows for the spiritual growth of both involved. Just as we cannot define our entire being in words, we similarly cannot wholly define the love shared between two beings.

When we love genuinely, we grow and as more of us learn to love with presence, effort, action and attention the world grows, changes and gradually heals. To acknowledge this is to begin to awaken, to work towards it is to walk the path of spiritual maturity, to dedicate one’s life to it is to embrace one’s ultimate purpose for being and to master it is to achieve human perfection.

Wherever we are on the spectrum, we must know that Moshe has set the art of loving as the highest ideal for our people. Its achievement will be the hallmark of our greatest age.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck

[1] Yesode haTorah, 1:11

Parasha Perspectives

III  Ekev

7a               The blessings of obedience  (7:12-16)
7b                Israel’s struggle with nations of Cana’an  (7:17-26)
8                  Remember lessons of the wilderness  (8:1-18)
9                  If you forget He will destroy you  (8:19-20)
10                Warning against self-righteousness  (9:1-29)
11                 Results of Moshe’s intercession after the sin of the Golden Calf  (10:1-11)
12a              Love and obedience due to God’s historic help (10:12-11:9)
12b              Contrast of Cana’an and Egypt  (11:10-12)
12c               A productive Land is contingent on obersving the
mitzvot (2nd paragraph of the Shema)  (11:13-21)
12d              Keep mitzvot, increase borders  (11:22-25)

Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS