What Loving God Really Means

Aug. 19 2016

This week’s Torah reading of Va’etḥanan contains the first paragraph of the Sh’ma prayer, which includes the verse, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might”—a commandment hard to reconcile with the modern notion of love as an uncontrollable feeling. Drawing from his recent book, The Love of God, Jon D. Levenson notes several ancient Near Eastern treaties requiring a vassal to love his king, or even a king to love his vassal, and suggests that the earliest readers of this passage might have found such an obligation much easier to accept. But he also cautions against pushing this reading too far:

Remember the rhetorical situation [of this passage]: Deuteronomy claims to be confronting a stiff-necked and inveterately rebellious people with the need to reenter and renew covenant (9:7, 24, 13; 31:27). . . . [The text] must elicit in [its] hearers the motivation to make a profound change. . . . Emphasizing God’s love for Israel and Israel’s correlative (but sadly neglected) obligation to love God makes perfect sense in this context.

Levenson further points out that later on in the same Torah reading, when speaking of God’s love for His people, the text uses not the generic term for love but ḥashak, to “set one’s heart upon,” a word which often carries a plainly erotic connotation:

[To judge from the use of this verb it seems clear that], along with the obligations of a covenantal suzerain, God’s love for Israel has a passionate character analogous to human sexual eros.

The chosenness of Israel appears in a different light when it is viewed as the result of such passion on God’s part. Usually, the issue is put into a framework of justice, with . . . detractors arguing that the choice [of Israel] was and is unfair, an act of injustice toward the unchosen. But love does not map so easily onto justice.

The fact that you love your husband or wife in a very special sense does not imply an injustice toward other men and women. Nor does it imply that, by objective criteria, those other individuals do not surpass your beloved in various respects. It implies, rather, that the two of you have a unique personal bond that resists universalization and rationalization.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at theTorah.com

More about: Ancient Near East, Deuteronomy, Hebrew Bible, Love, Religion & Holidays

 

Europe-Israel Relations Have Been Transformed

On Monday, Israel and the EU held their first “association council” meeting since 2012, resuming what was once an annual event, equivalent to the meetings Brussels conducts with many other countries. Although the summit didn’t produce any major agreements or diplomatic breakthroughs, writes Shany Mor, it is a sign of a dramatic change that has occurred over the past decade. The very fact that the discussion focused on energy, counterterrorism, military technology, and the situation in Ukraine—rather than on the Israel-Palestinian conflict—is evidence of this change:

Israel is no longer the isolated and boycotted outpost in the Middle East that it was for most of its history. It has peace treaties with six Arab states now, four of which were signed since the last association council meeting. There are direct flights from Tel Aviv to major cities in the region and a burgeoning trade between Israel and Gulf monarchies, including those without official relations.

It is a player in the regional alliance systems of both the Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean, just as it has also become a net energy exporter due to the discovery of large gas deposits of its shoreline. None of this was the case at the last council meeting in 2012. [Moreover], Israel has cultivated deep ties with a number of new member states in the EU from Central and Eastern Europe, whose presence in Brussels bridges cultural ideological gaps that were once much wider.

Beyond the diplomatic shifts, however, is an even larger change that has happened in European-Israeli relations. The tiny Israel defined by its conflict with the Arabs that Europeans once knew is no more. When the first Cooperation Agreement [between Israel and the EU’s precursor] was signed in 1975, Israel, with its three million people, was smaller than all the European member states save Luxembourg. Sometime in the next two years, the Israeli population will cross the 10 million mark, making it significantly larger than Ireland, Denmark, Finland, and Austria (among others), and roughly equal in population to Greece, Portugal, and Sweden.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Abraham Accords, Europe and Israel, European Union, Israeli gas