Love of God
With Parshat Ekev, we are now in the middle of Moses’ farewell address, and at nearly 120 years old, it seems that Moses has become soft. All his talk is about love.
“And if you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, your God יהוה will maintain faithfully for you the covenant made on oath with your fathers. God will love you and bless you…”
“And now, O Israel, what does your God יהוה demand of you? Only this: to revere your God יהוה, to walk only in divine paths, to love and to serve your God יהוה with all your heart and soul.”
“Therefore, love your God יהוה, and always keep God’s charge, God’s laws, God’s rules, and God’s commandments.”
“If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving your God יהוה and serving God with all your heart and soul…”
Ahavat Hashem, love of God, might seem like a lofty goal, but Moses is teaching us that it is within our reach; we just need to act out our truth, with feeling and do so unabashedly. I’ve seen many examples of this in my lifetime, from great acts of sacrifice to discreet acts of service.
When I first entered (Baalei Teshuva/beginners’) yeshiva, I came across numerous young men in their 20s who took time off from well-paying jobs or turned down lucrative business offers to come closer to God and learn Torah. I found their sacrifice inspiring with their tales of leaving behind a Porsche in the driveway and fine business suits in their closet, settling instead for the ancient word of God and a barebones dorm in Monsey or Jerusalem.
Sometimes our love of God comes from our sacrifice to keep the mitzvot. My first position was rabbi of the Young Israel of Santa Barbara. Just to obtain kosher food (which is always more expensive), we had to drive two hours down to LA. We only had one kosher bread in Santa Barbara, and it was a robust sourdough. That was our staple for three years; even now, I steer away from sourdough loaf.
My congregant, Robin, truly inspired me. Married to a Jewish man, she was going through the conversion process. The Beit Din in LA said she had to live within walking distance of the synagogue. Unfortunately, their home was a few miles away and included the uphill hurdle of a significant mountain. Their solution: they bought an RV and would park it in nearby congregants’ driveways to live there during Shabbat.
Furthermore, in the Orthodox tradition, there’s a rule to tovel, immerse one’s metal and glass cutlery and food utensils in a mikvah before using them. In Santa Barbara, this meant taking the whole kitchen down to the ocean, putting the cutlery in sock bags, going in and out of the water endless times, and rinsing it all off afterward from the bacteria and sand. It was quite a major effort. With all of Robin’s kitchen laid out in public like a garage sale, a person, unsure of what strange activity we were doing, called the police on us. Robin explained, “Sir, it’s like we’re baptizing the dishes!” Robin displayed true love of God during this process.
I see the deep love of God regularly expressed at MHJC, as well. Each night, many people come to minyan just to make sure that people saying Kaddish will have a minyan. Sisterhood and Education leaders shlep back and forth to markets making sure we’re stocked with plates, challah, and cookies for Kiddush, snacks, franks, and fries for the school. Generous people give nobly from their hard-earned savings enabling us to function and provide for all our needs. Committees form to collect bottles for redemption, clothes for the poor, and money for a displaced Ukrainian family. Volunteers arise to lead services and read from the Torah. Last, but certainly not least, numerous board members add hours to their day by attending long committee meetings to ensure we are serving our community faithfully. These people may not even recognize the nobility of their efforts, but they are truly serving God with their hearts and souls.
Moses showed us that loving God takes our heart and soul. At times it requires us to sacrifice and be brave. Yet I’m happy to report that we’ve been following this path for the past three thousand years. Some of us do it overtly, and some discreetly. And I believe it’s why Manetto Hill Jewish Center is still strong today. Thank you for showing your love.
Have a great week,