Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
August 5th 2011 -Volume I, Issue 38–12th of Av 5771
Parshat Va’Etchanan/ Nachamu
It’s a funny thing this thing called love. It’s hard to describe. The dictionary defines love as- a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person. But anyone who has ever felt true love knows that it is an emotion that really can’t be put into words. What’s even stranger about love is that sometimes it can strike at the most unexpected moments. Last night as I went in to check on our one year old sleeping infant, and found him curled up in a little ball with my yarmulke perched on his head and my necktie- I had been looking a week for- crumbled up in his hand as he was snoozing away, I just stood there for a few minutes overcome with that feeling of total love. Why? I don’t know-I can’t explain why that yarmulke and tie mean so much to me. I just know that I love them… just jokingJ (sorry I couldn’t resist).
But jokes asides, our kids more than anyone elicit these feelings within us. We want to hug them at different moments out of the blue. Hold them close. Go on great trips with them. Show them how beautiful life is… how beautiful it can be-particularly in Eretz Yisrael. I have started our summer family Tiyulim and I can just sit back and watch all of these beautiful families around me basking in that love and all of that energy that parents are making to share the beautiful world with their children. The kids however? Not so much- as my children would say. How much longer? Can I have an ice cream? This is soooo boring… Why do we have to shlep around so much. Even worse are the older ones with the headphones implanted in their ears. They are in your car and with you on your trip in a twilight zone/alternate universe type of way. Their bodies are there, but their brains and souls have been captured by an alien ipod electronic god that slowly moves their heads to and fro every so often to the rhythm of a tune that has something to do with love.
But we love them anyways. We can’t explain why. It’s strange. Imagine if we someone just showed up on our door one day, demanding to be fed, cleaned up after, laundered for, educated, put to sleep and entertained as well- for free. They were cranky, impatient; they fought with your other children and in general stressed you and your spouse out- sometimes even bringing the two of you to serious disagreements (a nice word). How would we react? With love? Do you think you would sit by their sleeping bed at night and just gaze in their beautiful face. Yet, if they’re our own children it all changes. A funny thing this love. But there’s certainly nothing more special and more desired in this entire world.
One would think with the unique nature and mystery surrounding the origin of this love, that it would be a hard thing to force or even command someone to have. It has to be something that comes naturally and unexplainably-not something that we can expect to elicit on our own if it is not there. Ye,t as Jews we know that perhaps the two greatest mitzvot we possess are the mitzvot to Love your friend as yourself- maybe because he is your friend it is easier (an interesting aside- the literal translation of the verse in the Torah is your friend-Rayacha, not like the more common mistranslation or wrongful Christian paraphrase of love your neighbor-which it does not say in the Torah- although there’s nothing wrong with loving him as well.) But perhaps even more troubling is the mitzvah in this week’s Torah portion which we read twice daily in the Shema-
And you shall love Hashem your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your possessions.
How can we be commanded to love God? Isn’t love something we either have or don’t? I can understand the mitzvah to revere or honor God, to obey Him and even to relate to Him or imitate His ways as we are taught. Those are mitzvot that demand an action. But how does one elicit an emotion? We can’t exactly stand over God’s crib and bask in His beauty. What does this mitzvah mean? We recite it twice a day. It’s probably worthwhile to understand what it’s all about.
The Sefat Emet- the Rebbe of Ger suggests a very deep insight based on our questions. He seems to agree that it would be difficult for us to be commanded to have an emotional feeling for someone or something. One either has it or doesn’t. Therefore he concludes, it must be (and you can close your fist and stick out your thumb and swoop it up in the traditional yeshiva Talmudic motion) that if Hashem commanded it, we must already be programmed to have that emotion- to have that love. Loving our Creator is hardwired into our psyche. It’s there. It is in fact at the core essence of who and what we are- in as much as being a parent possesses having that same sense for one’s child. Being a Created being with a Divine soul means having an innate natural sense of overwhelming love for our Creator.
The problem with love though is that if it’s not expressed it gets buried and forgotten. If a parent never takes those moments to spend and focus on the love they have for their children, they can and will get so caught up in all the distractions of life to ever experience perhaps the most beautiful part of being a parent. If they never tell their children how special and important they are and how much they mean to us-not only will the children suffer, but we ourselves will be missing out on building and growing that incredible feeling and essence of life. It is in that vein Hashem commands us to express that inner self and love for Him. This is so that we may bring out the core of our souls. So that we may appreciate all that we are meant to be and feel.
With this understanding we can explain the beautiful, yet haunting story we read on Tisha’a B’av of the great sage Rabbi Akiva, who as his body was being ravaged by the Romans with iron combs declared to his students how he could withstand such torture.
“My whole life, I waited for this opportunity to declare my love for Hashem and now that it has come to my hand can it be that I will not fulfill it?”
And with the words of the conclusion of Shema he passed.
Rabbi Akiva was certainly not someone who had a death wish. He lived, enjoyed life and accomplished so much and had so much more to accomplish- more than any of us could ever hope to experience. So what does this perplexing statement mean? Perhaps the answer is as we have suggested. Rabbi Akiva was telling his students, that his whole life he wanted to experience this part of his soul that possesses such great love for Hashem even to the point of giving up one’s life. –to paraphrase and old love song- I will die for you , I will walk the world for you, everything I can do I will do for you. He waited his whole life to feel and express that powerful level of love which he knew was latent inside of him. At the end of his life he finally had the chance. His last lesson to us was how much and how deep that powerful love could be.
This Shabbat is called Shabbat Nachamu. It is the Shabbat after our intense mourning for our Temple that has still not been rebuilt. It is a time to remember that as we left and saw our Temple burning the Talmud tells us that the last image we saw was of the two cherubs embracing on top of the Ark- a miraculous phenomena- leaving us the most important message, as we left into our long bitter and distant exile. Hashem loves us even with all we have done. We had forgotten how much He meant to us. We had forgotten who we could be and what we could feel for Him. But He always- like a parent to a child- has that love for us. Sometimes we need to be far away to remember that love we had. Sometimes only losing that special person reminds us of how much they meant to us. May Hashem finally comfort His nation and return us all once again to His loving embrace so that we may once again truly feel the beauty of being His special children.
May you have a Shabbat filled with love and comfort,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
TEL FACHER/MITZPEH GOLANI- a small hill top in the golan heights, yet its its story of bravery and sacrifice are eternal. In 1967 this hill was the large post of the syrian army from which they terrorized the halutzim in the lower hula valley. On the last day of the six day war. The israeli army finally decided to capture this mountain top and finally do what it could to provide the security its farmers and their families ( many who had to until then sleep underground). They had only 24 hours to take this mountain top which was on a sharp treacherous incline covered with mines and barbed wire and and protected by Syrian soldiers with AK47’s from above. The hilltop was first airbombed – they exact target was beautifully marked for them by the Eucalyptus trees that were planted by the Syrian trees on the advice of “Our Man in Damascus” Eli Cohen, Israel’s heroic spy), however because the trenches and bunkers were so deep and so fortified they withstood the assault and the mountain had to be taken by a man to man uphill battle. 32 young soldiers , some 18 or 19 years old, from the Golani brigade, lost their lives capturing the mountain. Many of them in extreme acts of heroism including lying down on the barbed wire as their comrades climbed over them. Yet in the end with Hashem’s help we were victorious yet a steep cost. This is a an important site to visit as we pay our respects by the monument there to those who gave their lives for our great nation