And You Shall Love

Yesterday I attended Kabbalat Shabbat at The New Shul for the first time in years. As some of you know, I have a complicated relationship with my Judaism. I’m an atheist, so although I love many of the rituals of the religion, I’m often uncomfortable in services that mention God too much. I certainly don’t feel that I can say the Sh’ma, the primary tenet of the faith, without perjuring myself.

Still, Kabbalat Shabbat, the Friday evening service, at The New Shul is always a special event, with gorgeous music (especially gorgeous now that they’ve started incorporating Sephardic and Middle-Eastern Jewish traditions) and lovely community. And, incredibly, last night rehabilitated for me one of the core prayers that I am uncomfortable with, the V’ahavta.

The change was in the custom guidebook for Friday Night and it was in the translation of the prayer. It was a very minor change, just one word, and actually the word wasn’t even changed, just bracketed. But that made all the difference. Here’s how the first lines read:

And you shall love (God) with all your heart,
and all your soul, and all your might.

That’s all. But once the word “God” is in parentheses, the entire prayer becomes not about the divine being I don’t believe in, but about love. Instructions for how to love. You shall love with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your might, and you shall take these words and speak them in your house and on the road and teach them to your children and bind them on your arm and between your eyes and write them on your gates. What shall you love in this way? Why, everything that you love. No holding back, if you love something, love it fully, and teach others to love just the same way.

Somehow, that really resonated with me last night. Maybe because I’ve been second-guessing myself around the topic of love and winding myself up in tangles trying to strategize the feeling away. But if this prayer is true, I don’t have to manage it, I just let myself feel the thing with every (as another translation has it) “inclination of my knowing heart” and let that be enough.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Karen J
    Feb 04, 2016 @ 04:16:04

    Thank you for the link in your sig-line at Havi’s, Puck!
    This is a wonderful re-framing. Makes that prayer resonate with me, too.



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