Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – MIshpatim

It is all about love. I was in a meeting this week where a leader in the organization said that sustaining an organization was simple: you give because you love the organization. Even while I heartily agreed with him, I responded that the answer really didn’t help the conversation … not without a lot more substance. If you ask ten different people to define “love,” you will get fifteen different answers.

My wife is an avid tennis player. I asked her what love meant. Much to my delight, she avoided any reference to being scoreless on the court. Can you imagine telling people that giving is based on love, while they are thinking and interpreting the message through the “tennis lens” … meaning “nothing?”

Love is a word that we throw into way too many conversations. We love this food or that place. This must make us very sad, for there is no greater emotional pain one can experience than that of experiencing and expressing an unrequited love. I loved that hamburger; it did not love me back. I love that work of art, but sadly it just sits there and stares back at me.

In Greek, lots of different “loves” are acknowledged with different words… many of which are specifically non-intimate, but in English there are no words in that realm between “like” and “love.” I envision a movie scene (can’t remember the movie or the direct quote): it is obviously set on Valentine’s Day. We see a packed restaurant where couples are sharing all sorts of intimacy (nothing too “R” rated). The waitress is addressing a couple sitting an appropriate distance from each other, “Do you want the ‘Valentine’s Hot Lover Special’ or the ‘We’re together forever shared meal’?” The man responds, “Is there anything more appropriate for a couple dating only two weeks with lots of potential for more?”

This weekend, it’s all about love. We will buy all sorts of gifts and make special arrangements for folks with whom we share some level of emotional / physical / intellectual intimacy. Many will offer a gift and hear in return, “OH, I love it!” However much excitement exists in the voice, one had to wonder why the statement was, “I love It,” and not “I love you?”

In faith, I think we experience the same feelings. “I love my Temple / Church / Mosque.” “I loved that music or that sermon … or that dessert on the fellowship table.” Not one of them can love us back, and yet, the people with whom we are experiencing the worship (or dessert) somehow go unnoticed. The embrace of divinity that gave and sustains our lives gets lip service in the midst of a worship experience, and yet in the surrounding conversation … even in the house of worship … goes unnoticed. Now, I know enough to know that whatever God is … Divinity is beyond human limitation and definition, but how can we show up and read and sing about how much God loves us and how much we love God … then close the book and be done with the relationship until we open the book the next time?

This week’s Torah portion provides a lot of help. Last week, we read of the symbolic Ten Statements (Commandments) that govern the setting of our communal priorities and responsibilities. Rooted in their core is the overarching demand that we demonstrate respect for the world around us. We have to honor our Creator, our parents, and our earth. We have to govern our emotions and responses to the world, so as not to abuse it or each other. The text that immediately follows this week deals with property rights. In short, how do we best demonstrate our commitment to each other’s dignity? We do so by protecting each other’s stuff, each other’s personality, and … each other.

Remember that when the Messianic Age comes, the text of the Bible is superfluous. We will have learned to live its ethical foundations. It begins not with loving the stuff, but loving the person enough to protect his or her enjoyment of it. I can love the guy who made the great burger … and share with him the excitement of its taste experience. I can love the folks who thought enough of me to offer the gifts that they share. I can love the people who made the music that stirred my soul. I can love the Source of creation that has given me more blessings than I have the vision to understand or acknowledge. I show and demonstrate this love, by protecting the dignity of the world around each of them. For my neighbor, it means honoring the sanctity of her home and livelihood. For God, it means protecting the sanctity of the home and relationships through which we are sustained. Reach out and share your love with someone and not something. Shabbat Shalom.