Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Eched.
This verse is perhaps the most often quoted verse in the entire Torah. The prayer of Shema that we read in this week’s portion is the prayer the Jews have clung to since the giving of the Torah. In it, we affirm our belief that G-d is one. We affirm our belief that only He is the true existence of all beings.
Immediately thereafter we continue with the verse: “You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart with all your soul and with all your might.” What is this obsession with love? Can’t we believe in him without loving him? Can’t we follow in his ways, recognize his existence without absolutely loving Him?
Why is it so important to G-d that we love Him too?
Our sages taught us that G-d created this world in order to have a dwelling place for Himself. Upon creation, he left some imperfections. He placed us here, with the intention that we would perfect it. Through his commandments, He gave us instructions on how to do so. Through following His instructions, we will perfect the world, ushering an era when G-d Himself will dwell amongst us in this physical world.
Why then did G-d not create this perfect dwelling place Himself? Did he really need us to come to pick up where he left off? Couldn’t He have done it better than any one of us?
Before G-d created this world there was one thing he did not have. G-d did not have a relationship. When we proclaim the oneness of G-d in the Shema, we are saying there is nothing aside from him. Before creation, that was true on a very literal level. There was nobody for G-d to forge a relationship with. But G-d wanted to have a relationship. He wanted to interact with free-thinking beings that make their own choices. So G-d created us.
But how can a creation like us relate to G-d? In order to facilitate that, G-d gave us a way to relate to him: Follow My commandments in perfecting this world. This will create a relationship between the Creator and His creations — like the student who follows the instructions of his brilliant teacher. By doing so, he enters the world of his teacher.
And that is where love comes in. True love is love that leads to actions. The most treasured friendships, love between husband and wife, or parent and child, all compel us to act in a way that our loved one desires. When there is true love, you begin to do what your loved one desires even without being asked!
This is what G-d desired from us. Recognition is nice, but He wanted more.He wanted a relationship. By sharing with us His commandments, He gave us an insight on how to have that relationship. He told us what He desires. When we have true love, we will do just that, thus fulfilling the purpose of our creation, having a relationship with Him.
As we go about our lives and get caught up in the daily grind, we often lose sight of why we were created in the first place. We put our relationship with the world around us first and with G-d second. How ironic. The very thing that was created to help us forge our relationship with G-d ends up getting in the way.
When we say the Shema prayer daily, it is an opportunity to pause and reflect. It reminds us why we are here in this world. To love G-d. Let’s not deprive our Creator of the only thing we can give Him. PJC
Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld is rabbi of the Lubavitch Center and executive director of Chabad of Western Pennsylvania. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.