I am still pondering that point raised by one of my CPE colleagues, Rev. Paul Gaffney – that every interaction is either someone asking for love (however inappropriately) or someone offering love. While the reality of that doesn’t make sense to me – not all relationships about I-Thou, in which we are subsumed with each other, and not all I-Thou relationships are always in that intense space. And some people ARE evil, and sometimes a question is just seeking information. But the likelihood that we are seeking love a lot of the time resonates, even if we don’t always do it appropriately – think the negative attention some of us and our children have sought in our own lives. We surely don’t always do it appropriately.
With all the weddings I’ve been officiating or co-officiating this summer, love seems all around me, and again, some of it more appropriate than not – mothers who can’t get out of their own needs to be there for their daughters the bride; but much of it is overwhelming in the good hearts of people who want their community around them as they transform their love from two separate people into one joined couple. I pray that they love they feel that day lingers and is strengthened.
And love permeates this torah portion and indeed this book of the torah – we are in Deuteronomy or Devarim, the last one. According to R. Jonathan Sacks,
The book of Deuteronomy is saturated with the language of love. The root a-h-v appears in Shemot twice, in Vayikra twice (both in Lev. 19), in B’midbar not at all, but in Sefer Devarim 23 times. Devarim is a book about societal beatitude [bliss] and the transformative power of love.
And in our torah portion this week, Ekev (if you follow), the shoresh or root alef-hay-vet appears 8 times (more than a 1/3 of all the times it appears)… Ekev is one of the truly great torah portions – partly because of all this love, but also because it contains another of the great descriptions of what God demands of us.
Devarim 10:12 And now, O Israel, what does YHWH your God demand of you? Only this: to revere YHWH your God, to walk only in God’s paths, to love God, and to serve YHWH your God with all your heart and soul, 13 keeping YHWH’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your good. 14 Mark, the heavens to their uttermost reaches belong to YHWH your God, the earth and all that is on it! 15 Yet it was to your fathers that YHWH was drawn in His love for them, so that He chose you, their descendants, from among all peoples—as is now the case. 16 Cut away, therefore, the thickening about (really circumscribe) your hearts and stiffen your necks no more. 17 For YHWH your God is the God of Gods and Lord of Lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who shows no favor and takes no bribe, 18 but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, providing him with food and clothing.—19 You too must love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
In 7 verses, some form of ahav appears 4 times. God loved our ancestors, God loves the stranger and wants us to love both the Eternal AND the stranger. We are urged to love the Holy One, who shows no favor and takes no bribe, and to love the stranger, and uphold the cause of the orphan and widow – the most vulnerable…
What God demands of us here is not the 10 commandments, but the task of acting Godly – showing no favor, accepting no bribe and
caring for – and loving – the vulnerable. Then we will feel the power of haEl Hagadol Hagibor v’hanora – the great, mighty and awesome source of power in the universe.
The connection between loving God with all our heart and soul (or breath) and doing the right thing seems palpable – who here hasn’t felt great after helping someone in need? Who hasn’t felt that charge of connection to be able to hand food to someone who has been hungry, or thanked someone for the work they did, or literally helped a widow or orphan?
That desire to be of service – whatever the service – is powerful, and is a source of spiritual energy in the world, part of the arc of the universe that is slowly bending toward good.
Another key verse in this paragraph is that we are to circumcise our hearts – or cut away the blockage that prevents us from feeling love, from feeling connection to the power in the universe that bends toward love. First, just the connection between ritual circumcision that is part of the covenant for Jewish males – that there is a blockage or barrier that we – or you guys – should cut away. (Does that mean we women are finally off the hook for something here?) But cutting away for barrier also refers – more than just in this paragraph – to our hearts – the part of us that allows us to feel both reason and empathy, that allows us to care for the widow, orphan and stranger.
That allows us to see people not like ourselves as worthy of our love and care. That takes us beyond loving our neighbor to loving people who need us, even if they are dirty, or mentally ill, or poor, or somehow painted with the dust of loss, or speak with an accent, as my grandfathers did, or have a different skin color.
And maybe, just maybe, if we can open our hearts, cut away the blockages, we can learn to love them as our neighbor.
St. Patricks Episcopal Church and we and we hope other congregations in the community are planning to come together on September 22, during Sukkot, to talk about turning our fears into love and turning our anger into peace, so that every interaction we have IS about asking for or giving love. I hope you will join us.