Because Love is Our Natural State: Va-etchanan
Va-etchanan: Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11
This week we find in our parashah the words that are at the center of our daily worship: the Sh’ma, and the first verses of the V’ahavta. While the Sh’ma is calling us to “Listen!” and know the One that is every one, the V’ahavta is giving us the key to opening ourselves to this realization. “Love!” instructs us the V’ahavta; “Love the One in all Its manifestations with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your energy!” [Deut. 6:5] The rabbis insist that though the verse might sound like a commandment, love cannot be commanded, for it has to do with human nature. And that is exactly the point, the rabbis continue: to love the One in all Its manifestationsis the natural inclination of every being. It is not something we need to do, something to struggle for. Rather, it is about remembering our True Nature; peeling off the Klippot – the husks — of ego around our heart that have distorted our perception of reality, and simply letting the natural flow of love at the center of our being take us over. Because love is our natural state.
“Easier said than done!” you might object. Indeed. But the Torah’s instructions continue: “Let these words… be upon your heart.” [Deut. 6:6] Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger (19th century Poland) quotes from the midrashic work called Sifre, which asks: “Why is this [verse] said? Because it says ‘Love!’ and I do not know how, [Scripture explains that] when you place these words upon your heart, you will come to know the One…” The rebbe derives from this quote that: “By placing the words on your heart always and longing to know the Love of the One, the Spirit of Holiness that dwells within you will be revealed to you.” [S’fat Emet; Devarim, Va-etchanan b] But how do we “place” these words upon our heart?
In biblical times, the heart wasn’t associated with love or emotions; the heart was the seat of the soul, the center of consciousness. To “place” these words upon our heart meant to hold them in consciousness. And as the next verse in Torah continues to instruct us, you were to “repeat them when you sit in your house, when you walk on your way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” [Deut. 6:7] These words were to be a mantra to be practiced not only while sitting in mediation in our home, but throughout the day. “V’ahavta – Love the One in all Its manifestations!” repeated moment to moment, in all our actions, and while looking into the eyes of every being we meet. Both when the mind is filled with fear or anger, and when it is at peace and content. Both when we experience darkness in our world and in our life, and when we feel surrounded by light and bliss. We repeat these words. And by repeating these words we practice choosing reality just as it is, in all its manifestations. Not reality as we would want it to be, but reality as it is. Loving reality as it is, choosing reality exactly as it manifests itself in every moment, is one of the pathways to spiritual awakening, to remembering the True Nature of our being which is Love.
How does this work? Practicing loving whatever is, teaches us to impartially allow every experience to arise, without judgment. Loving “what is” opens a space in our consciousness where love is no longer attached to a particular object, where love is unconditional—i.e. no longer bound by our conditioning. Stepping into such consciousness is how “you will come to know the One” explains the Sifre. It might not happen today. It might not happen tomorrow. Yet Torah is enjoining us to keep practicing, to keep repeating V’ahavta – “Love this! Love now!” For even if the return journey to the home of our soul turns out to be a long one, at least it will be a journey of ever expanding love.