By Rabbi Sigal Brier
In the midst of the many rules, laws and conditions which define covenantal love in Torah, we find God’s unconditional love. The steadfast divine presence of God in the Torah and the promise of the Promised Land were never conditional.
Between the lines of all the do’s and don’ts, rewards and punishments and if-then conditions, we find the foundations for the kind of love we all desire — unconditional love, ahavat chesed.
I am writing about love because we are a week away from the month of Elul, which is known as the month of love. Elul, the last month in 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 coming year.
The name “Elul” is an acronym for the beautiful verse “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,” from the biblical love poem “Song of Songs.” For the 29 days of Elul, we are reminded of this verse and of how love connects us with each other and with the mystery of God.
Ahavah, the Hebrew word for love, is commonly associated with the feeling of love and romantic love. In Torah, ahavah is mostly covenantal love. In Torah, there is no separation between heart and mind, feelings and thinking. Ve’ahavta et hashem “and you shall love God,” is not only a feeling, but also a commitment. Feeling and acting are not separated in Torah. Together they make up covenantal love.
From lech lecha, the call to Abraham to go forth and begin the Jewish relationship with the monotheistic God, we have been on a journey. The words lech, Hebrew for go, and Halacha, Jewish law, are from the same Hebrew root word meaning to walk, journey and go. Abraham started the journey of the Jewish covenantal relationship with God. Jewish law continues to pave the way for us to journey on the long Jewish path.
Halacha is not a static entity frozen in time. It is an evolving and changing path which provides dynamic guidance for how to live, evolve and mature in life and in relationships. A lot of life is relating and interacting. Our relationships, both to our world and to the unknown mystery, continue to inspire us and inform our lives and paths in science, art and religion.
Avraham began the journey to become a blessing, not a journey to simply be happy. His departure from the culture he knew was in search of a new way of being, a new life, with new understanding, meaning and purpose. It wasn’t a smooth or easy journey. We can relate to this because we know it takes time and effort to navigate and learn how to be in new situations and relationships.
From the days of Abraham through the story of Moses and the Israelites, the Jewish path developed and matured. In the portion Eikev, we continue reading the many details of the laws governing the relationships between people and between people and God. The if-then agreements, the rewards and the punishments are numerous.
But if you look closely, you will see that all along, and a little hidden in the avalanche of all the do’s and don’ts, there is unconditional love. This is both the love of God for the people and the love of the people for God. God will deliver on the promise and support the Israelites to arrive at and flourish in the Promised Land.
Even though the people have not always been obedient, and some rebel along the way, this promise will not be broken. The people devote themselves to learning how to be in mature relationships to God and each other.
Among the verses of this portion are the Shema and ve’ahavta. The Shema is a call to a deeper intimacy, unconditional love and healthier relationships. The ve’ahavta reminds us to cleave to and actively journey on the path of mitzvot — in essence, staying committed to our lives, each other, our path and our values. With love and commitment we journey on the path of mending — the path of tikkun olam — mending the world in every step we take until all is connected with unconditional love.
Rabbi Sigal Brier is the rabbi at Temple Judea of Bucks County in Furlong and creator of Mendful – Live Connected, which mends the world with conversation, meditation, mendful zones and art. The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia is proud to provide the Torah commentary for the Jewish Exponent.