By Rabbi Sigal Brier
Amidst the many rules, laws, and conditions that define covenant love in Torah, we find the unconditional love of God. God’s unshakeable divine presence in the Torah and the promise of the Promised Land have never been conditional.
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Between the lines of all the dos and don’ts, the rewards and punishments, and if-then conditions, we find the foundations of the kind of love we all desire – unconditional love, ahavat chesed.
I write about love because we are one week away from the month of Elul, which is known as the month of love. Elul, the last month of the Jewish calendar, is dedicated to remembering what we love; we review the past year and renew our commitments to what we love in the year to come.
The name âElulâ is an acronym for the beautiful verse âI am my beloved and my beloved is mineâ from the biblical love poem âSong of Songsâ. During the 29 days of Elul, we remember this verse and how love connects us to each other and to the mystery of God.
Ahavah, the Hebrew word for love, is commonly associated with the feeling of love and romantic love. In the Torah, ahavah is primarily the love of the covenant. In the Torah, there is no separation between heart and mind, feelings and thought. Ve’ahavta and hashem âAnd you will love Godâ is not only a feeling, but also a commitment. To feel and to act are not separate in the Torah. Together they form the love of the alliance.
From lech lecha, the call to Abraham to go ahead and begin the Jewish relationship with the monotheistic God, we took a trip. The words the CH, Hebrew for go, and Halacha, Jewish law, come from the same Hebrew root meaning to walk, to travel and to leave. Abraham began the journey of the Jewish covenant relationship with God. Jewish law continues to pave the way for us to walk the long Jewish path.
Halacha is not a static entity frozen in time. It is an evolutionary and changing path that provides dynamic guidance on how to live, grow and mature in life and in relationships. A lot of life is in relation and in interaction. Our relationships, both with our world and with the unknown mystery, continue to inspire us and inform our lives and our paths in science, art and religion.
Avraham began the journey to become a blessing, not a journey to just be happy. His departure from the culture he knew was in search of a new way of being, of a new life, with a new understanding, a new meaning and a new purpose. It was not a smooth or easy trip. We can understand this because we know that it takes time and effort to navigate and learn to be in new situations and relationships.
From the time of Abraham to the history of Moses and the Israelites, the Jewish path has developed and matured. In the Eikev part we continue to read the many details of the laws governing the relationship between men and between men and God. The if-then deals, rewards and punishments are plentiful.
But if you look closely, you’ll see that all along, and a little bit hidden in the avalanche of dos and don’ts, there is unconditional love. It is both the love of God for the people and the love of the people for God. God will keep the promise and support the Israelites to arrive and prosper in the Promised Land.
Even though the people have not always been obedient and some have rebelled along the way, this promise will not be broken. People are dedicated to learning how to be in mature relationships with God and with one another.
Among the verses in this part are the Shema and the Ve’ahavta. The Shema is a call for deeper intimacy, unconditional love, and healthier relationships. The ve’ahavta reminds us to attach ourselves and actively travel on the path of mitzvot – in essence, to remain attached to our lives, to each other, our path and our values. With love and commitment, we walk the path of mending – the path of tikkun olam – repair the world with every step we take until everything is linked with unconditional love.
Rabbi Sigal Brier is the rabbi of Bucks County Temple of Judea to Furlong and creator of Mendful – Live Connected, which repairs the world with conversation, meditation, repair zones and art. The Greater Philadelphia Council of Rabbis is proud to provide Torah commentary for the Jewish exponent.