• Ruth Schapira

Ahavah ~ Love

In Deuteronomy (Devarim / 6:5) we are told "And love HaShem, your God, with all your heart, and with your entire being and with all your resources"* which is known by so many of us as the third line of the Shema.

The "And love" part might, at first, seem like a command. And (see below) that's how most translations make it appear.

But if that's so, how can we make sense out of being commanded to love?

After all, in the Aseret HaDibrot / The Ten Sayings (commonly mistranslated as the Ten Commandments) we are not even commanded to love our parents, but to honor them!

How can we love what seems to be an abstraction? Sure, we might feel God's presence, sense that there is something beyond the tangible and concrete, and yes, we might even have a surer sense of God than other things in our lives...

But still, all this seems to exist solely in our minds and hearts. Plus, it's hard enough to feel a sense of the Divine while trying to rid ourselves of a "Hebrew School" image of God as a "man sitting on a throne in heaven" (and that's if you attended Hebrew School).

But let's look a little deeper at what God is asking of us.

Rambam, in the Mishneh Torah (commentary on the Torah, Yesodei HaTorah, chapter 2) says:

"What is the path [to attain] love and awe of God? When a person meditates upon [hitbonen] God’s wondrous and great deeds and creations and appreciates His infinite wisdom that surpasses all comparison, one will immediately love, praise, and glorify [God], yearning with tremendous desire to know [God's] great name…."

The love that we're being asked to give doesn't come naturally. The love is part of an eco-system of other behaviors. We have to work at it, just as in any relationship. If we're expecting to feel something, we have to do something.

And we have to work on it in steps---very, very small steps. For example, if we just examined only the first requirement of this love, that we should love with "all our heart" it might mean doing things that change the way we feel.

Like practicing gratitude. This can be as simple as writing down a list of 10 things that you find wondrous in the world. Different from a "Gratitude List" these are not things that you are personally grateful for, like your health, your family, your home...but for that which is all around you, every day and night, that you might take for granted. Like the fact that plants instinctively reach for the sun, or that the moon changes over a period of a month, in predictable phases, while the sun has an everlasting shine. Like that.

Try this a bit with me in the exercise below, right now. And then, see if you begin to open your heart to Ahavat HaShem, Love of God.

And please, tell me how it goes for you.

*This is my translation of the Hebrew, which is usually translated as: "You shall love your Lord, your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might."

  • Ruth Schapira

A story told from the soul perspective is “the story beneath the ego story, the one with the thread of truth running through it..."

~ Parker Palmer

So, what is the ego story? It's the one that we tell that makes us look good, enforcing the protective shell around us, the one that hides our vulnerability to others.

But what about self-esteem, isn't that a good thing?

Of course we need a sure sense of self, which is a little about ego strength, but when the ego overtakes us and suffocates our true selves, our souls are in danger of retreating.

Our egos often get in the way of our relationships. When we fear the diminishment of ourselves, our honor, our pride...that is our ego talking. It's not that having an ego is bad, but when it becomes the primary way we interact with others, or the primary way that we hope to connect with a Higher Being, it becomes a barrier to an authentic relationship.

One of the challenges of trying to lead a more spiritually pure existence is paying attention to the inner voice more, the one that rings true with authenticity. If we continually ignore this part of ourselves, it becomes buried under a pile of rationalizations.

In contrast, our ego-voice is the one that shouts at us from the moment we get up, asking for attention. It takes training to recognize the voice for what it is, a petulant child who constantly seeks needs to be met, seeks honor and recognition.

The midrash says that Torah was given to us in the desert because it represents the untamed wilderness, where openness is the state of being, and that unless we too, become open and free with no boundaries (ego fortifications) we will not be ready to receive its treasures.

To create a connection with God, we need to escape our preconceived notions. As Avraham did, we need to leave our former place of comfort and go into uncharted territory. We need to remove the filters of ego and self which will only serve to hold us within the boundaries of our experiences. We need to become “Ownerless” in order to be open to God.

~ Adapted from The Jewish View of Spirituality. Haber and Sedley.

To listen to more spiritual content, visit my Inner Judaism podcast, on either Apple or Spotify. You can also subscribe to Inner Focus, a spiritual newsletter.

  • Ruth Schapira

Inner Joy - Simcha

Simcha means the inner joy that has nothing to do with laughter and music and everything to do with knowledge that you’re connected to something bigger, something that really counts.

It doesn’t mean things will always be easy or go smoothly, but it does mean you’re living reality – and there’s no better feeling.

~ R’ Chaim Rosenfeld

We often use the word simcha to mean an event of happiness. For Rabbi Rosenfeld, simcha is a feeling that goes deeper than being surrounded by celebrants. Although we experience happiness at those times, the feeling is as fleeting as the scent of a flower (or even a good cup of coffee!). We can't grab onto it, hold it, and return to it another time. It was great while it lasted....but then it's in the air, gone...lingering only as a memory.

The inner joy that comes from knowing our connection to the One In The World is what we strive for. How do we uncover that part of ourselves that has embedded in our memory, a deep attachment to something larger than our physical reality? Our sages say that before our souls entered into this reality, we had that knowledge---which is why spiritual language resonates with us in the first place.

For us to begin to tap into that inner voice, we need a spiritual practice. Like other abilities, it takes a regular and daily commitment. There are many practices to engage in... meditation, prayer, journaling, chanting and more. If you haven't yet tried one or more, now is the time. Create some inner joy!

It’s not one’s circumstances that determines one’s mood; it’s one’s mood that determines the circumstances.

~ The Baal HaTanya zt”l