Thursday, October 3, 2013

Where is Love in the Jewish Religion?

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                     

There are people who think that Jews do not emphasize love in their religion.  They've known and expressed love perhaps in a way that others have not understood, but it's been there, and is loud and strong.

Jews do many things to remind themselves of the presence of the Lord.  They use these reminders to remember His commandments that keep us ethical and loving, and of our duties to Him in return.  Some people feel this intuitively, but many of us need the help.  It doesn't hurt.  That's the first to receive of our love.

Doing these acts of reminders are called mitzvot, which is the plural form of a mitzva.  To do a mitzva is to do a good deed.  We try to do some form of mitzvot daily.  The highest level of a mitzvah is to save a life.

The first call we have been given is to love G-d.  It's like our command to obey Him.  We repeat an affirmation of G-d's unity or oneness 2 times a day by saying: Hear O Israel, the lord is our G-d, the Lord is One.  This is the start of the Shema (to hear).  We say this when we are dying, as well.

The reminder that follows is: And you shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.  For these words which I have commanded you this day upon your hearts, to love your G-d, must be diligently taught to the children.  It must help to mold one's thought and action when arising and when going to bed, and when walking on the street and going about one's affairs.  Bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be ornaments between your eyes.  And write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.  

Shema Yisrael Adonoi, Elohenu, Adonoi echad.  

We need reminders, so they must be placed where we can see these reminders and so we have them around us.  They are on one's hand and head, and upon the gates and doorposts of one's home.

 They are in the shape of tefillin, phylacteries, which are a 2 little black leather boxes fastened to leather straps that sits on a man's forehead when he prays in the morning and afternoon that contains 4 portions of part of the 5 Books of Moses:  Exod. 13:1-16;  Deut. 6:4-9;  and 11:13-21. They are in the shape of the wrapping  the straps on the forearm while doing their morning prayers which is the other piece of tefillin.

They are in the shape of the mezuzah that we hang on the right side of the doorpost that contains the Deut.6:4-9 and 11:13-21 which we kiss before entering the house.

 Below you see a man praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem which was a part of the remnant of the Herod's Temple.  The original Holy of Holies, where Aaron would have been in, is at the West end of the Temple so this wall is considered sacred to Jews.  Jews could not come here again from 1948 until after 1967's war as Jordan would not allow it.
They are in the shape of the tzitzit a man wears under his clothing, a set of fringes made of threads that are intertwined with blue cord, as males were commanded to wear this on the corner of our clothing.  Therefore, men wear an arba kanphot (4 corners) or tallit katan (little Tallit) and a large Tallit during morning prayers.  A Tallit is a prayer shawl, traditionally used by men, though some women are starting to use it, also.  It is a 4 cornered rectangle cloth that a man puts over his head.  It's like a miniature tent that gives him privacy to pray to his G-d.  The corners have the Tzitzit that have been knotted into the fabric.  In Israel, a prayer shawl is huge.  I had the privilege of being above the men's prayer service in a balcony in Safed, and looked down to see a sea of tents.  Inside each one was a man, of course, praying, which usually is done in a singing melody in a minor key that reaches every heart.  It was so different from the men in the USA at the synagogues I had attended who in a mixed male female group, wore a very small prayer shawl about their shoulders.  It was still a reminder of what it was all about, however.

The moral lesson here is that all man's material possessions are a gift of Heaven.  This is love.  This is commitment.  We have loved long and hard, ever since being taught by Abraham that there was but one G-d back in the 2nd millennium BCE and then in their advanced lessons from Moses in about 1271 BCE.  It's been an never-ending love affair.

Hillel, a great Rabbi, was asked by a stranger what Judaism was all about, but told to tell it quickly while standing on one foot.  He answered, "What thou dost not like when done to thyself, do not unto others."  It is right in Leviticus, 19, verse 18.  "You shall love your fellow as yourself."  

This shows that if we love G-d, that love is a learned reaction and we will love;  animals, plants, the earth, mankind as well, for how can you love G-d without appreciating where we are as living creatures and what is around us?

This is a deep form of love.  It's different from sexual love, in the sense that that acts as an attraction to get 2 people together.  After the honeymoon wears off you're facing a person, not necessarily a love object standing on a pedestal.  .  Then comes another type of love, a little more like the deeper kind of appreciation as found for our G-d.

Yes, we have always had love in our religion.  You could say that our religion is all about love.  It's what we love that counts.  What we learn here is that this love must be in our heart for starters.  The reminders are just that, reminders to love and appreciate our world and our G-d who created it.  This is something that cannot be taken for granted, but taught to our children.  Once in a blue moon you will meet someone who has been born with such love in his heart, and he or she is a diamond in a box of unpolished rocks, a very special man.

Resource: To Be a Jew by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, page 142, Chapter 8, signs of the covenant:  Love and Reverence
The Standard Jewish Encyclopedia
Tanach,  The Stone Edition

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