Well, unlike Tina Turner, who thinks that “who needs a heart when a heart can be broken” this week’s parasha takes a much more positive view of love. It’s only in this book of the Torah, in fact, this last book, Deuteronomy, that the word/idea of “love” even appears.
How do we command love? Bonnie Raitt knows “I can’t make you love me”, but God seems to think we can be commanded to love, and so we read: “You (meaning, us) shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, soul and deeds.” Ten Big Commandments and uncounted other laws boil down to this? Love your God. Period. That seems rather simplistic, but biblically speaking, most of the trouble the Israelites got into had to do with losing faith with God, not believing God would follow through. (Think Golden Calf, water in the wilderness, cavorting with Canaanites, etc). That is, cheating on God, taking a “break”, believing in some other attractive God that happened by. Then God got mad and hurt, our survival is questioned; in other words, “Breaking up is hard to do.” Then we get back together, thanks to Moses the Marriage Therapist.
It’s not that simple to be open to love in the first place; Tina’s right. But Torah has it over Tina, recognizing that love takes both preparation and execution. You have to be ready, and you have to be ready to be in love. How many times did you hear when you were single and dating, especially from your mother, that you have to be open to love, that love ain’t gonna show up at your apartment door like a pizza you want delivered?
So here’s how the Torah tells us to be open to love: “Cut away (literally, circumcise) the thickening around your hearts and stiffen your necks no more.” (Deut. 10:16) Kate Wolf sings somewhat more poetically: “Give yourself to love, if love is what you’re after. Open up your heart to the tears and laughter, give yourself to love.”
One might ask why, after all this time and interaction with God, just before heading into the Promised Land, now God talks about love? Is it just a Barney kind of love: “I love you, you love Me” and that’s it? No, not exactly, because it’s not enough to love. To love is to do, and what does the Torah say right after telling us to open our hearts? It isn’t sacrificing an animal or building an altar. Instead, “open your heart to God” means loving the way God loves: by showing no favor, taking no bribe,and upholding the rights of the most vulnerable, the fatherless, the widow, befriending strangers and giving food and clothing to those in need. Love means never having to say, “Sorry, neighbor, you’re on your own!” because, as God reminds us, we’ve been there. And if this is the start of a new society in a new land, then God’s telling us, “Remember to be good to each other, that’s what I mean by love.”
It’s too easy to suggest that if you just love and help others, that’s being “Jewish”. Jewish love demands not that we just feel, but that we do. What to do? How to do? What’s our manual? The Torah, or at least, the Torah as interpreted through the lens of thousands of eyes and years. (Otherwise, we’d still be at that altar, cleaning off goat gizzards.) Midrash, Jewish lore, says the Torah is our marriage contract, our ketubah, with God, and by keeping up the promises in the contract, our relationship will survive the inevitable bumps and curves.
“You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, your soul and your might” It might sound familiar. It’s the first paragraph of the Shma, the statement we say three times a day in the liturgy. “v’ahavta et Adonai Elohecha, b’chol l’vavcha, u’v’chol nafshecha, u’v’chol me-odecha” But it doesn’t stop at Love Your God, because that wouldn’t lead anywhere. Things are made better when you act on your love. So remove the thickening around your heart. Free up your neck to really look around and see those around you who need help. With your heart, your mind, your deeds, you’ll realize along with Maria von Trapp, “Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay. Love isn’t love till you give it away.”