Parshat Vaetchanan

In this week’s parasha, we have the famous pasuk that we say many times a day:

וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶֽךָ

You shall love Hashem with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all your might. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks relates how we can see how central love is in the book of Devarim by noting how often the root “to love” appears in this sefer – 23 times, more than any of the five books of the Torah.

In his final speech, Moshe Rabenu was showing us how much Hashem loves us and how much we should appreciate and love Him back. Unfortunately, when talking about commitments in today’s society, people are very reluctant to bind themselves unconditionally to something or someone. The mindset that predominates today encourages us to try this, sample that, and experiment and keep our options open for the latest version or the better deal. Pledges of loyalty are few and far between.

Nowadays, freedom is usually understood as “freedom from,” meaning the absence of restraint. We don’t like to be tied down. But the real freedom worth having is “freedom to,” meaning the ability to do something that’s difficult and requires effort and expertise. So, for example, if you want to have the freedom to play the piano, you have to chain yourself to it and practice every day.

Judaism is built around an act of mutual commitment, by G-d to a people and by the people to G-d. Commitment is falling in love with something and then building a structure of behavior around it to sustain that love over time. The laws, mitzvot, and halacha are the structure of behavior that keeps the love and attachment alive.

If we want to strengthen and maintain our relationships, we must build around them a structure of rituals, small acts of kindness, and little gestures of self sacrifice for the sake of the beloved.

That commitment will be rewarded with an everlasting bond of joy, light, and love.

וְיָ֣דַעְתָּ֔ כִּֽי־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ ה֣וּא הָֽאֱלֹהִ֑ים הָאֵל֙ הַֽנֶּאֱמָ֔ן שֹׁמֵ֧ר הַבְּרִ֣ית וְהַחֶ֗סֶד לְאֹהֲבָ֛יו וּלְשֹׁמְרֵ֥י מִצְוֺתָ֖יו לְאֶ֥לֶף דּֽוֹר׃

Know, therefore, that only the LORD your G-d is G-d, the steadfast G-d who keeps His covenant faithfully and the kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Him and keep His commandments. (Devarim 7:9)