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If you will obey My commandments that I command you today, to love… G-d with all your heart and all your soul, [then] I shall provide rain at its proper time… you shall eat and be satisfied… Beware less your heart turns away and you stray after idolatry… G-d will be angry with you… there will no rain and the land will not give its produce. You will be swiftly banished from the… Land that G-d has given you (11:13-17; second paragraph of the Shema).
Love is an emotion. It is not a choice. It just happens. It is irrational. All those who have experienced love at first hand know exactly how it electrifies and galvanizes.
From earliest childhood I could not bear the taste of fried fish, and I have generally been quite happy to jump the soup course. So I cannot love, or even warm, to the fish and the soup, which is perhaps why my editors and distributors have named my weekly missives. http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/ 'Between the Fish and the Soup'. (They might have done better with 'Between the Strawberries & Cream, and the Black Coffee'. Failing best English strawberries, 'Between the Mango Pavlova and the Black Coffee' would have done just fine).
On the face of it, the Torah - in this case recited daily in the both the first and second paragraphs of the Shema, appears to be demanding the impossible. It is not regulating an action, but an emotion: 'You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might'.
In response, the Talmud (Yoma 86a) explains loving G-d in a more achievable manner:
'You shall love the Lord your G-d' (4:5), means that the Name of Heaven shall be beloved because of you'. In other words, your own conduct as a Jew and bearer of the Torah tradition should cause others to love G-d. As the Talmud elaborates:
'If someone studies Torah and Mishna, and attends on the disciples of the wise, is honest in business, and speaks pleasantly to persons, what do people then say concerning him? "Happy is the father who taught him Torah! Happy is the teacher who taught him Torah! Woe to people who have not studied the Torah! For this man has studied the Torah: look how fine are his ways, how righteous are his deeds! Of him does Scripture say: 'He said to me: "You are My servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified'" (Isaiah 49.3). But if someone studies Scripture and Mishna, attends on the disciples of the wise, but is dishonest in business, and discourteous in his relations with people, what do people say about him? "Woe to him who studied the Torah! Woe to his father who taught him Torah! Woe to his teacher who taught him Torah! This man studied the Torah: look, how corrupt are his deeds, how ugly are his ways…"'
Allegorically this principle behind the second paragraph of the Shema could applied to an issue with a very high profile in the media: the increasing numbers of Yeshiva and Kolel students supported by private and in some cases public funding. At best, and at the very best, we are talking about those who sincerely and devotedly propagate the unique force which filters down through the Jewish people, giving it its character and unique connection with the Creator. Without them, that unique perspective that is specific to all the Jewish people would slowly fade.
However, their duty is that they interact with each other, and with wider society in such a way that the "Name of Heaven shall be beloved". The vibes that they radiate through the work they do should win the respect of other people, so that the public exclaim: "Happy is the father who taught him Torah! Happy is the teacher who taught him Torah!" Even if they themselves are not members of that community and are not themselves observant.
Allegorically, then, their reward would be akin to: "I shall provide rain at the proper time… you shall eat and be satisfied". The wider community will feel happy and indeed privileged to support them in their endeavours.
However, if in any way they fall short of their calling, the wider public will feel betrayed. As the Talmud puts it: '…dishonest in business, and discourteous in his relations with people, "Woe to him who studied the Torah! Woe to his father who taught him Torah! Woe to his teacher who taught him Torah! This man studied the Torah: look, how corrupt are his deeds, how ugly are his ways…"' Indeed, those would be misrepresenting Torah, giving it the malodorous stench of idolatry - allegorically 'straying after idolatry'. Thus their support will be akin to 'there will be no rain and the land will not give its produce'. People will not wish to support them materially, and their behaviour will reflect on the Torah community as a whole.
In a related context - the proposed draft of Israeli Yeshiva students - one of my teachers, Rabbi M. Salomon (now of Lakewood), suggested that the plan was deeply rooted in the "dissatisfaction in Heaven about the current actual learning in that community".
Perhaps that might be extended to the negative vibes given out by those students to wider community. In other words, those learning Torah full-time who fail to relate appropriately to others. The negative reactions of the wider community are rooted in their own behaviour.
And therefore those people ultimately - to carry the allegory to its conclusion - would be effectively 'banished from the Land' - their wanting to learn Torah there, full-time. They would find themselves having to choose whether to enrol for military service or leave the Holy Land: in the spirit of the verse quoted in this context by the Talmud (Yoma 86): "They profaned my Holy Name, saying that they are G-d's people. But they went out of their Land…" (Ez. 36:20).
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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