Scholars believe that the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) is covenant document – it follows the pattern of Middle Eastern written treaties and covenants. In the Complete Jewish Study Bible, there is a commentary on page 235, called The Nature of Covenant, that I would like to read to you.
That’s when the words of the V’Ahavta really jumped out at me. You are to…what? You are to LOVE ADONAI your God.
This was not just a business relationship. If you perform these 613 things, then I will perform my side of the agreement.
This was not just a religious agreement. If you sing these songs and pray these prayers and offer these sacrifices, then I will be your God and bless you.
This was a love relationship. We are supposed to LOVE God.
That’s a pretty radical idea, if you think about it. How can you love someone as powerful and holy and unattainable as God? What does it MEAN to love God? Have you ever thought that you loved God? Or have you ever told God that you loved Him? What was that like?
Let’s compare it with marriage. Marriage is also a covenant, and it often serves as a good and tangible example of love. Like the commentary said, covenants were usually started by some gracious action on the part of the king. It was the same for Garrett and I.
First, he messaged and then called me – reaching out to me, initiating contact.
Then he came to see me.
Next he found a way to drive down and help my family set up an outdoor ministry event. He made a long drive. He gave up his own time to help me. And he was so heroic, fixing the roof of the booth I would be in so I didn’t get rained on, and putting nails in the walls for me to hang things on. That is probably the day that I started actually falling in love with him.
In Deuteronomy, we see the same thing. God called His people out of Egypt. He rescued them. And He was patient with them, forgiving them, and teaching them. He was bringing them to a good land. He was the hero in the story.
And in your own life, God has done this for you. He called you by name. You probably wouldn’t even be alive today if it weren’t for Him. He has rescued you. He has been patient with you, forgiving you, teaching you. And He’s bringing you to a good place as well.
There are a few important things in this week’s Parshah about how to keep that love alive.
- Rehearse how it started. I know that remembering that day that Garrett was fixing the roof on my booth still makes my heart warm and fuzzy. In this week’s Parshah, ADONAI and Moshe tell the people to keep rehearsing what ADONAI has done for them. Don’t forget.
- Rehearse your shared life, nature, customs, and will. Rehearse His mitzvot. Rehearse His character. If the goal of a covenant is to make two people into one, then focus on that oneness.
I know that Garrett and I are in close fellowship when we are on each other’s minds all the time.
- He comes home from work, telling me that it was a hard day but he was thinking about the fact that he was doing it for me and it helped him finish the job.
- He comes home from a long drive and tells me that the sky over the road was full of my favorite type of clouds and he kept thinking about how much I would enjoy seeing them.
- I make foods that I know he likes.
- And I hear quotes from him in my head over every little thing I encounter (“well, if Garrett were here, he would say…”).
- I counter every big decision with “let me check with Garrett.” I’m focusing on that ONEness with him.
Someone who loves God does the same. Those flowers by your porch make you smile because He made them. Quotes from His Word pop into your head all day long. You rest on the Shabbat because you know He likes that. You are actively pursuing His way of doing and being right. That is part of this covenant of love.
- Don’t allow someone else to steal your focus away. Deut 7:5 says, in reference to the Canaanite lands with their foreign gods, “No, treat them this way: break down their altars, smash their standing-stones to pieces, cut down their sacred poles, and burn up their carved images completely.
You can’t let other temptations hang around. One of my closest friends, when she got married, she went through all her belongings and got rid of stuff. She got rid of a cute little teddy bear that some guy from her youth group had given her, years earlier. She ripped up a photograph of an old crush of hers. She got rid of any romantic reminders that weren’t from her new husband.
And it doesn’t stop there — when you are married, sometimes new temptations arise and you have to cut them down immediately, too. Maybe it’s a really nice coworker that just seems to work so well with you. Maybe it’s a really cute bass player at your congregation. Maybe it’s an old friend that just popped up out of nowhere. You don’t entertain the thought of “I wonder what we would be like together.” You don’t even leave that thought sitting there and “just try to ignore it.” You do just like ADONAI told the children of Isra’el and you cut that thought down completely and smash it.
We have to do the same with God.
o Is there a cute magic movie, and you wish you could just snap your fingers and have your wishes come true? No, cut that idea down right away.
o Does your friend worship nature, and that actually seems kind of appealing? Don’t let that idea just sit there and co-exist with your worship of ADONAI.
o Is there a pagan ritual or a pagan god that sounds really cool to you? You can’t leave those things in your life because it is impossible to serve God and them.
It would be like Garrett coming home and saying, “hey, I’ve decided to love you and this other gorgeous girl who I’ve found…who, by the way, is one of your enemies. She’s moving in now, and we’ll give her the spare bedroom.” That just doesn’t work in a strong marriage relationship!
These are just some practical applications of love – remembering your history together, practicing the things that make you ONE with each other (loving what each other loves), and keeping faithful in that ONEness.
But there is something more to love, isn’t there? Love isn’t just a list of duties. I could stand up here and say, in a monotone voice, “Once upon a time, Garrett drove all the way down to see Esther and he fixed a roof.” Or I could say, “Garrett likes to come home to a clean house. I will now clean it just because it annoys me when he comes home grumpy.” Or I could say, “I didn’t talk to any other cute guys today. And I really don’t want to talk to you either.”
That wouldn’t be love, would it?
By the same token, we can read the Bible from cover to cover. We can follow the commands to the letter. We can shun other gods. And still not love God.
I want each of you to try a little demonstration for me. I want you to turn to someone in this room. I want you to think that you don’t care two pins about this person. And I want you to say in a flat voice, “Hi, I hope you have a good week,” without meaning it at all. Go ahead and try it.
That was terrible.
Now we’re going to try this again. But before we do, I want you to think about this person. And you love this person. Maybe it’s your mom. Maybe it’s your brother. Maybe it’s a good friend. You genuinely like this person. You genuinely care about this person. When you think about them, your heart swells with love for them. You want to be patient with them, kind to them, humble and selfless in your approach to them. It would be pretty hard for them to make you angry because you like them so much. If they make a mistake, you would forgive it and forget about it. You trust them. You love them. Everything in you wants to be around them. Everything in you wants them to be happy and succeed.
Now, as you are thinking these things, turn to that person and say, “I hope you have a good week!”
See the difference?
Love is a choice. Love is an action. Love is long-lasting. Love comes from every layer of your being. That’s why the Shema says to love ADONAI your God with all your
Love comes from all those places. It comes from your heart and your mind and your will and your emotions and your strength and your resources.
This covenant that we have been called to isn’t a mere business agreement or governmental contract or even a set of religious observances. It is a covenant of love that is all or nothing.
And that. Is. Amazing.
And practice your love toward ADONAI this week!