Sunday, November 1, 2015

With All Your Heart

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

After reciting the Shema - the statement of G!d's onenesss - in the morning and in the evening, we continue with additional verses, beginning with:

 וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת ה' אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָֽבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ:
V’ahavta et Adonai elohecha b’chol l’vav’cha uv’chol naf’sh’cha uv’chol m’odecha. 
This verse (Deut. 6:5) is commonly translated as: And you shall love the Lord your G!d  with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.

What does this really mean? I invite you to journey with me, as we look a little more closely at some potential meanings of the key words here.

L'vav'cha – This is the word layvav with the suffix meaning “your” (which each of the three key words here have). In the Biblical dictionary (Brown, Driver, and Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament), layvav can mean: inner person, mind, will, heart, soul, memory, determination of the will, conscience, and seat of emotions and passions, as well as seat of courage.

Nefesh – This word also has numerous meanings, including: that which breathes (due to G!d breathing into the nostrils), breathing being, soul, inner being of human, a living being whose life resides in the blood, human self, self, seat of the appetites, seat of emotions and passions, and breath.

Me'od – This word connotes muchness or abundance, and can mean force, might, exceedingly, greatly, or very.

Clearly, many possible options exist as to how to translate this verse, and scholars attribute certain meanings to the context here.

But let's go a bit further and consider some of the meanings the ancient sages deciphered from this verse:

Onkolos, who translated the Torah into Aramaic in Roman times, provides this meaning: 
And you shall love YHVH your G!d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your wealth.

From the Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 25a) we learn: 
Rabbi Eliezer says: "Since it is said (Deuteronomy 6:5) [You shall love your G!d] with all your soul, why is added, With all thy wealth? And since it is said, With all your wealth, why is also added, With all your soul? This is to teach us that in case there is a person who loves himself more than his wealth, for him it is said, With all your soul. And if there is a person who loves his wealth more than himself, for him it is said, With all your wealth.

And in Berachot 54a of the Talmud we learn: 
..."with all your heart," i.e. with your two impulses, with the good and the evil impulse...
..."with all your soul," i.e. even if He takes your soul; "with all your might," i.e. with all your wealth.... 
..."with all your might [meodeka]" — with whatever measure [middah] He metes out to you, you return to Him thanks [modeh].
And from the Medieval period, we learn more, the first two from commentaries on the Torah, and the third from a code of law.

Rabbi Moshe ben Nachmanides (Ramban): 
Bechol levavcha....is the force that desires...bechol nafshecha...is [the organ that] reasons...
Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam): 
While alive you are to love G!d with all your heart, if your faith and love for G!d is put to the test of your having to choose it over your very survival, you must choose the former.
Rabbi Moshe ben Maimonides (Rambam): 
What is the appropriate Love? It is that a person should love G!d with a great and very excessive love, until his soul is bound up in love of G!d and he focuses on it constantly as if he were lovesick ...love of G!d should be in their hearts constantly... (Mishneh Torah, Repentance 10:3)
We could go still further of course. But based on all of this, I would like to suggest the following meditation:

V'ahav'ta et Adonai elohecha - You shall love the Mysterious One your G!d...

B'chol l'vav'cha - with all your heart; with all your love, your desire, your compassion, cleave to G!d. 

Close your eyes and focus your attention on your heart. Bring all of your senses, bring all of your body and your mind into focusing on your heart. Feel your heart growing and filling a larger space. Maintain your focus on your heart and a sense of G!d's presence in your heart.

U'v'chol nafshecha – with all your soul, your breath, your physicality. 

Maintain your focus on your heart, but now, feel your heart breathing. Keep your breaths even and regular, but feel how they begin and end in your heart. Keep breathing gently, in and out, to and from your heart. Be aware of the significance of your breaths.

U'v'chol me'odecha – with your full being, with all that you are and all that you can be.

Continuing to breath regularly, now consider something or someone or some activity you love very much, an image that fills you with a sense of well-being; allow this feeling to fill and overflow your heart. Feel the sense of abundance expanding outward from your heart.

V’ahavta et Adonai elohecha b’chol l’vav’cha uv’chol naf’sh’cha uv’chol m’odecha. 
These words...shall be upon your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall speak of them when you are sitting in your house, and when are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. (Deut. 6:6-7)
May it be that all that you have experienced here shall remain in your heart, and that you will spread these good and powerful feelings with diligence to your children and to all those around you, at all times, whether you are at home or at work or with friends, when you retire for the night, and when you arise again the next day, may your heart focus, your heart breathing, and our heart feeling never depart from your heart.

*This meditation is adapted from the Quick Coherence® Technique for Adults developed by the HeartMath Institute, which I first read about in Teaching as if Life Matters, by Christopher Uhl.

Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as a Nature Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in 2005. 

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