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   by Jacob Solomon

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Hear O Israel. The Lord is our G-d. The Lord is One!
You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might (6:4-5).

Love is an emotion. It is not a choice. It happens. All those who have personally experienced love know exactly how it electrifies and galvanizes. Yet here, the Torah appears to require a feeling of emotion rather than an act of service: 'You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might'.

The oft-quoted explanation is the one given by the Talmud (Berachot 62a): "You must love G-d - even if He takes your life". As the Alshich elaborates, if facing martyrdom, it should not be the attitude of being a victim of murder, but attaining the ultimate spiritual height of surrendering one's very soul and being to the Creator. The Talmud exemplifies with the story of Rabbi Akiva. Whilst being tortured to death by the Romans, he explained to his incredulous disciples: "All my life I prayed that I would be able to maintain my love of G-d even if it cost me my life. Now that I am succeeding in doing so, should I not be happy?"

Elsewhere, however, the Talmud (Yoma 86a) explains loving G-d in a more everyday manner:

'You shall love the Lord your G-d', means that the Name of Heaven shall be beloved because of you'. In other words, your own conduct as an Israelite 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! But if someone studies Torah 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!

The Sforno, however, sees "You shall love Lord your G-d" as a positive consequence rather than as a positive commandment. The previous verse declares: "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G-d. The Lord is One". The operative word is "Hear". Continued progress along the path of listening to G-d, sensing G-d, "tuning in" to G-d, and indeed encountering G-d should be the ultimate achievement of "Hear O Israel". By knowing G-d, explains the Sforno, you come to love Him. Loving G-d is a natural consequence of interaction with G-d.

But as mere humans, we are endowed with only the five basic senses of sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing. The human being, however great, is ultimately limited by the very capacity of being human. His or her very considerable powers of perception are circumscribed by limited biological capacities. Life-long genuine Torah education plus hakarat hatov - gratefulness to G-d that includes the things that are easy to take for granted such as health and sustenance, enable the development of spiritual sensitivity. Additionally, there are people who are blessed with sixth senses to perceive the Almighty, perhaps palpable in their immense kavana (devotion) when praying the Amidah. There are also individuals who reap the effects of years of repeated interaction with the Divine purity of Torah learning in the form of the breakdown of barriers between themselves and the Creator. The ultimate is nevua, prophecy, and within that the prophecy of Moses who unlike other prophets "knew G-d face to face".

What these approaches have in common are that "Hear O Israel" points to each person continually striving and aspiring to tune in to the kol demama daka - "the still, small voice" (Kings I 19:12) of G-d. How far that still small voice may be perceived varies from individual to individual. But it does mean listening and aligning one's senses to pick up His Presence and Contact where He makes it possible, seeing His Hand in life, and coming to love Him through knowing Him.

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: 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:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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