Shabbat Shalom and Happy Tu B'av!
“To love well is the task in all meaningful relationships” bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions
In popular culture, love is often described as a feeling, an instinct. In romantic comedies, characters say “I think I’m in love,” upon meeting one another. But in the Torah, love is more than a feeling; it is an activity, an action. This week’s Torah portion contains a central text, the V’ahavta (“You shall love”) prayer. The rabbis of the Talmud interpret this text as to be teaching us how to love. The V’ahavta’s first verse reads:
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.”
What’s the difference between your heart, your soul, and your might? Why do all three of the these elements need to be listed? Rabbi Eliezer gives one suggestion: he suggests that different people might find it easier or harder to love in different ways. One person, he suggests, might find that they have a more protective relationship to their property (his interpretation of what “your might” means) so they might be less inclined to give away possessions in acts of love. Someone else might find it difficult to perform acts of service for loved ones that require one’s physical body (his interpretation of “your soul”). We don’t all have the same inclinations of how to love: some of us are more heart, some of us are more soul, some of us are more might. In the framework of Dr. Gary Chapman, we all have our preferred love languages. (I’d love to hear: which do you think you are?).
But the text doesn’t say, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, OR with all your might.” It says, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, AND with all your might.” From here we learn that loving requires us to engage with God, but really also one another, in all kinds of loving behaviors, both ones that come easily to us and ones that are more (sometimes much more) difficult. Loving is not an easy, instinctive task. It is also what our tradition calls us to do: love your neighbor, love the strange, love the orphan and the widow, love God. Heart, soul, AND might.
May you have a week of ahava, of love, and may you both give and receive it fully and deeply with your heart, with your soul, and with your might.
Rory Katz is the rabbi of Chevrei Tzedek Congregation in Baltimore. She was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in May 2019.