Yom Rivii, 28 Tishri 5778
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Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah--V'et-chanan

I love my wife. I love my children. I love many dear friends and teachers. I love the congregations at which I have been blessed to serve. I love gooey oatmeal raisin cookies. Wait ... I would hope that it is obvious to you that my love for oatmeal cookies is a very different love than that which I hold for my wife. I will go further and offer that I hope that we are all able to discern that for each "love" mentioned, I mean a variety of things and each type of love manifests differently than the others.I love my wife. I love my children. I love many dear friends and teachers. I love the congregations at which I have been blessed to serve. I love gooey oatmeal raisin cookies. Wait ... I would hope that it is obvious to you that my love for oatmeal cookies is a very different love than that which I hold for my wife. I will go further and offer that I hope that we are all able to discern that for each "love" mentioned, I mean a variety of things and each type of love manifests differently than the others.
Well, this week we receive the command to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our might. Well, I mightily love all of the above, but each takes a different piece of my heart or soul than each other.

Our love for the people in our lives runs deep. (Yes, many people throw the word love around quite freely, sometimes to the point of rendering the term meaningless). I best define love as the emotional pull that we experience with another person that defies rational or empirical definition. I cannot quantify love, except to say that I love my wife with all of my spouse loving part of my heart and soul, which is a different absolutely intimate piece than what I share with my children, friends, etc. There are ways in which my love manifests in one relationship that would be completely off base in others. I read the command to say that loving God is not separable from the above; it is the one love that is all inclusive.

I am not sure that I know how to do that. At least, if I am stuck with organized religions' standard definition of God, I am clueless as to how to love God with every fabric of my being. I cannot define the parameters of God to begin to know how to accomplish the task. I am not alone. In fact, I think that most people are stuck, just like me. For too many people, though, they lack the faith to journey into the unknown and have to demonstrate their love for an infinite God in incredibly burdening finite ways. How often, in all religions, do we hear, “God wants ‘x’ from us?” How often are we told that if we don’t perform rituals following specific parameters of rules, it is wrong or even wasted energy?As a Rabbi, I struggle because Judaism has a very rich ritualistic tradition, but not a monolithic one. Still, though, there are those who argue that certain rituals or prayers not performed in specific ways are; “Brachot l’vatalah - Prayers without value.” I don’t get it. We invent rituals and then bind God to them. Still, though, my tradition includes vast amounts of stories where a person’s intention held greater value than the accuracy of practice, and different walks of Judaism “observe” different ritual behaviors. 

From where comes the disconnect between the teaching that intention matters most and the superstition that accuracy in practice is absolute? Certainly, my religious tradition is not the only faith tradition that suffers from this conundrum. An entire schism happened in the protestant world over whether Baptism is through sprinkling or immersion and over the age appropriate for Baptism.

So, how does one love God, absolutely, when man-made rules govern his/her faith? In this “duh” question, we find the reason that religion in America is dying. Maybe we are more sophisticated; maybe less gullible. Perhaps the internet has helped us see past the parochial to the global. Our naiveté has washed away and perhaps, jaded; we need evidence. We have access to so much more information than any time in history, and with it comes our inability to “blind faith” believe. In too many “religious” settings, people find the search for divinity too limiting and perhaps even irrelevant.

So, here is my heresy: I do not find God in a prayerbook. I do not feel closer to God because I bowed or did not bow at certain moments in a service. If I stumble over words as they come from my mouth, their value in my heart does not diminish. That said, I devoutly believe that an awesomeness exists in this universe that has more to say about the order of nature than anything I can imagine. Maybe it is because I believe with absolute faith that I do not feel the need to quantify God. This faith also frees me to love without limit and to celebrate seeing God’s “thumbprint” in the many relationships that I cherish … at all different levels. I have to believe that the freer we are accepting a broader sense of divinity, the more open we will be to a broader sense of faith and love. “You shall love God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your being.” If I add up the many ways in which I love, and if I believe that all life contains divinity, then this is perhaps the easiest of all commandments to observe. Shabbat shalom.