Can love be a command?
The parasha commands us many times to love God. The command
is unusual for love cannot be imposed or acquired on demand,
nor by promises of recompense.
The end of the Song of Songs (8, 7) expresses this well:
im yiten ish et-kol-hon beito beahava, boz yavuzu lo
"if a man would give all the substance of his house
for love, it would utterly be contemned."
The verse seems to be saying that the very act of giving
in order to buy love is worthy of contempt.
The parasha demands of us throughout to try to understanding
this important subject.
The verse also tells us that a man who gives up the loving
condition that is found in study and donates instead his
money to institutions of learning, does not understand
the Torah and will receive only scorn. Making money or
giving money to Torah institutions does not dispense a
man from studying the Torah; this is the peshat (literal
meaning) of this verse.
Rashi gives us another interpretation: other non-Jewish
nations are ready to give everything in order to acquire
a portion of what was given to Israel and God tells them:
it is useless, you will receive from Me only scorn, because
you desire to take the place of Israel.
return to the initial question, why then does the parasha
describe at length God's request for man's love?
- God lists all the treasured gifts of life which He gave
man over a long period of time;
- He describes the happiness man will gain if he truly
- And the anguish and sorrow he will experience if he
does not love Him.
This is a strange request, which combines excessive demands
with excessive promises, and even threats (if man loves
God he will be blessed with many children and great riches).
(basing himself on the Sifri for his commentary on verse
11, 21) teaches us what is behind this proposition:
divre Torah nidashin miklal lav hen u miklal hen lav
"the words of the Torah can be interpreted in such
a way that a negation becomes an affirmation and an affirmation
Let us apply this teaching: these promises and demands
seem to indicate that love of God is not something automatic
or easy, since it needs to be commanded and made into
teaches us what is love
It teaches us that it is important and necessary to ask
- can love be commanded?
- what kind of love is this?
- does love usually have such requirements?
These questions can enlighten our personal and marital
relationships, as much as our relationship with God, especially
as the Torah describes the relationship between God and
man as the prototypal relationship between a couple, beginning
with the creation of the heavens and the earth, the animal
couples, then man and woman. The Song of Songs and the
teachings of the prophets use the same symbolism to describe
the relationship between Israel and God.
The title of this parasha ("Ekev," following
)stresses the importance of love: if there is love,
good will follow, if there is no love, catastrophe will
follow. This could be a description of what occurs when
two lovers quarrel, when the one who insists on maintaining
the relationship makes demands, lays down the law and
threatens dire consequences if his or her demands are
not met. In reality, demands such as these then to have
the reverse effect and rarely arouse love in the other
the parasha and the rest of the Torah seem
to teach us that all this typifies the very nature of
aza kha mavet ahava
love is strong as death
the coals thereof are coals
of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.
mayim rabim lo yukhleu lekhabot et haahava
Many waters cannot quench love
uneharot lo yishtefua
neither can the floods drown it.
(Song of Songs 8, 6-7).
This tells us that God loves Israel-humanity passionately
and that the problem lies with the one who is the recipient
of His love.
Contrary to what the songs seem to say, the desire for
love in man is not his strongest or most natural wish.
Many choose other options as their priority in life; money,
material possessions, ambition, war, hatred, destruction
Those who say they desire love usually desire a fantasy
or an interested form of love, and do not truly love:
they seduce others in order to feel strong and to strengthen
their self-esteem, but they do not really love.
When they encounter real love, they fear it, for they
view it as something pathological that can destabilize
their lives and lead to demands and possessiveness. So
they flee love like an illness and take refuge in tranquil,
monotonous relationships. They even often prefer such
monotony to the passions of love.
is the same in respect of man's relationship to himself.
Those who love themselves are rare. Many people hate themselves
and seek to please or influence others but not to love
or be loved, for they do not love themselves.
love through the Torah
Love was not given as something whole and complete; man
has to acquire love and understand its meaning. The world
was made in such a way that man can only achieve happiness
through his labor (asher bara Elokim laasot, his work
which God created and made
Bereshit 2, 3).
has the same problem as man, and despite his love for
man-Israel, despite the extraordinary and numerous proofs
of his love and the wonderful love letters, God is forced
to make a request for love. Furthermore he presents the
extreme demands in his request as being a normal part
of love. Passion, for evermore, total love, demands, proofs
are treated by Him as normal characteristics of love.
that the title word of the parasha appears already in
the sacrifice of Avraham: "And in thy seed shall
all the nations of the earth be blessed, because (ekev)
thou has obeyed my voice" (Bereshit 22, 18).
The demand is already there and is linked to love. If
we have difficulty accepting this law, it is because demands
are often subtle forms of tyranny which kill love. But
this must not make us blind to the teaching of the parasha,
or lead us to throw the baby away with the bathwater.
This interpretation (the positive connection between demands
and love), enables us to understand Rashi's commentary
and the connection he stresses between different terms:
"listen, keep one's promises yishmor lekha avtahato,
perhaps ki, you will say shema tomar in your heart, al
kohakha because, but, maybe dilema will I succeed, reconciled,
goodwill, only ask one thing, despite this, if you reject,
seduce him, reproach, acknowledge that, only worry about
her, if you leave me one day, satiated, fearful that,
no respite, you will forget, warning, duty, resist, fear,
fright." We must be pay heed to every word we use
and every word we hear in our intimate relationships and
be aware of the loving thread which connects us together.
And we must be aware of the loving thread which connects
us with Hashem in everything that is simple and concrete
(hamitzvot hakalot, says Rashi on Devarim 7, 12).
This teaching of the parasha on the nature of love helps
us to understand why the Shla centers his commentary around
humility, which Moshe best exemplifies. What is the link
which the Shla wishes to make between the demand for love
This "humility" anava, is not an ascetic, self-humiliating
quality: rather it symbolizes the person who understands,
accepts, knows and recognizes that everything comes from
God. Power, social codes, ideologies, customs and conventions
can make us forget this, and this results in a cultural
ideology such as that of the golden calf. Even though
he was brought up among an elite, Moshe knows that everything
comes from God and, knowing this, he trusts that everything
also will come from God. So when God declares His love
and demands love in return, Moshe does not argue but accepts
the gift of God with all its demands. This is his humility,
which is also called yireat ahava, "fear of God through
Thus all true love and true friendship are characterized
by trust -- trust in the fact that one's partner loves
and is good. And if he or she makes a point of demonstrating
this love, this should not arouse skepticism or arguments
in defense of one's rights and autonomy. It should lead
to acceptance of the gift of love.
The inner response then are the songs of love found in
the Psalms. Now we understand why God says in this parasha:
" if you hearken and keep my commandments you will
find happiness." This is also the song that rises
in the beloved's heart at the end of the Song of Songs:
karmi sheli lefanai
My vineyard which is mine, is before me..
Thou that dwellest in the gardens
haverim makshivim le kolekh
the companions hearken to thy voice
cause me to hear it.
berakh lekha dodi
Make haste my beloved
is reciprocal, then there is friendship, happiness and
respect for the other person. So behind the teaching of
the parasha on love and demands, there is a plea for true
goodness and kindness in all human relationships. And
everything we have said can be applied, on a lesser scale,
Experience has shown that kindness is so rare that it
is often perceived as a sign of stupidity, naivety or
masked self-interest and those who are simple and good
often become the object of persecution or humiliation.
This is why the parasha asks man not only to love God,
but also strangers and gerim, the poor, helpless and vulnerable
who are the natural victims of malevolence. The parasha
reminds us of these obligations and mitzvot because we
have a tendency to despise others and reject the option
Another teaching ensues from this:
- if we do not love God
- a fortiori, we will never love others, nor in our relationships
with our fellow-men nor in our conjugal relationships.
In the plea He seems to make for Himself, God is in fact
reminding us that the world was created by Rahamim, kindness
and compassion, and it is our turn to act with kindness
and compassion towards others.
Rashi has already drawn our attention to this teaching
in relation to Devarim 2, 7 (ki Hashem Elokekha berakheka
be kol maase yadekha
"For Hashem thy God hath
blessed thee in all the work of thy hand. He hath known
thy walking through this great wilderness, these forty
years Hashem thy God hath been with thee. Thou hast lacked
nothing"); Rashi says:
"lefihakh this is why
lo tikhpu et tovato you must not be ungrateful towards
leharot keilu atem aniyim and act as though you are poor
ella haru atzmekhem assirim but act as though you are
We humiliate God (or others..) five times when
- we do not hearken to him, when we do not listen
- we do not recognize acts of love and friendship
- we force others to prove their good faith
- when we reject others
- when we treat acts of kindness or love as acts of domination
warns us against these faults because man easily commits
them especially in the fact of true goodness, friendship,
happiness and love. Man is so used to the law of the jungle
and he has been so hurt by others, by those closest to
him and by himself, that he automatically dismisses friendship
and love and does not realize that the world is based
this attitude becomes extreme and many will go so far
as to unconsciously choose relationships which are based
on conflict, aggressiveness, domination/submission: this
is the basis of many relationships which claim to be "loving"
but are not.
The Torah and the history of our people tell us that man
does not know what love is and often rejects it. Love
is a continent that is still mainly virgin. And God strives
throughout the Torah to teach Israel that it is loved,
pleading: "hearken Israel, your God is good."
In our daily prayers, the Shema Yisrael (Devarim 4, 6)
is preceded and followed by the word ahava, love. Furthermore
the word ehad (one) has the same numerical value as the
word love (ahava = 13) which surrounds it twice, like
two arms or two ears.
Parasha Ekev is therefore a plea and a lesson on an important
subject: happiness in the simplicity of a true love or
friendship, and acceptance of an open and trusting dialogue.
This is based on Hashem's love for Israel.
now understand why it is written that, if we love God,
we will have good harvests, many children, etc. Indeed,
rejection of love and goodness destroys everything, and
nothing can resist this "evil eye," this ayin
hara for it kills the purest sentiments, the way we see
others, and we find ourselves justifying everything on
the basis of an ill-intentioned remark etc. This is a
sure road to destruction, while happiness was indeed possible
and attainable in all is aspects.
Note: clearly friendship and love are not possible between
everyone; they find expression among small groups of people,
families or couples. But, here too, one has to pay heed
in order for friendship and love to flourish.
Another level of love is found among the Jewish people.
Collectively and individually, a Jew is placed like an
antenna in the middle of a world in chaos and he is subjected
more than others (like Avraham, Moshe and David) to challenges
and tragedies; this is where his role of tzaddik comes
into play. The Jew experiences the challenges of life
and he understands how mankind is led into hatred, but
he is asked to remain a man according to the light of
And because he responds differently to others, he becomes
the object of persecution.
His role is to triumph through his trust in God's love,
which is stronger than all his enemies and stronger than
the evil eye. Choosing friendship and love is the art
of allowing trust in the one we love to be triumphant;
this trust remains inalterable throughout time, and in
the fact of external pressure. This is what the parasha
is saying: ekev, following
, following trust, friendship
and love blossom and bear fruit. This is why love is for
"ever." Following one sign, one discovers that
this love is what governs everything between two people:
be ahad me einayikh, beahad anak itzaveronaikh
" [thou has ravished my heart] with one of thine
eyes, with one chain of thy neck."
(Song of Songs 4, 9).
Each sign, and there are many, contribute to the whole.
One can try to make a list of all these signs. The end
of the Song of Songs (8, 13) summarizes this:
haverim makshivim le kolekh hashmiini
"the companions hearken to thy voice; cause me to
When we have truly listened to each other, we will be
together, says Israel to her beloved.
who do not see this in the land of Israel, and only see
something to be negotiated according to the criteria of
other nations, are far removed from Jewish history, Jewish
destiny and Jewish aspirations which kept the Jewish people
faithful to their Torah for centuries. If they were to
act in the same way in their intimate relationships, they
would fail miserably. At the same time we should not be
surprised by the social and domestic violence that has
emerged in Israel, for a large part of the people have
lost this sense of love which has enwrapped the Shema
from time immemorial. The parasha describes well what
happens when we lose our way.
in love, through the night
My beloved "is altogether lovely, kulo mahamadim"
says the Song of Songs (5, 16). This is the essence of
love and THE MEANING OF HISTORY. Love builds or destroys
a people, and a world, just like it builds or destroys
a child by its presence or absence.
True, it can often be disrupted by tragic phases, but
at night we believe in the return of the day. Love demands
wisdom based on the experience of the alternation between
night and day.
Listen, love in the way God asks of Israel and of men.
It is this total receptivity that is expressed in the
Song of Songs: "Who is she that looketh forth as
return, return that we may look
.my vineyard, which is mine, is before
." (chs. 6, 8).
this receptivity that is essential in all human relationships.
How many marriages fail because of a lack of receptivity
in the partners and an inability to listen to each other.
The initial sense of wonder dies and everything becomes
mechanical; there is no longer a soaring of loving or
sexual emotions, for neither partner is listening.
The same lack of sensitivity and solidarity is present
in our professional lives: ("my son has made it,"
means "he has made money and nothing else counts").
and reciprocity are expressed perfectly in the month of
Elul whose initials (alef, lamed, vav, lamed) are an acronym
for this wonderful verse from the Song of Songs: "ani
le dodi ve dodi li, I am for my beloved and my beloved
is for me," which is sadly mistranslated as "I
am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" which imply
possessiveness and domination and the opposite of the
true meaning! This error in translation is very significant,
for it represents precisely the distortions which the
Torah asks us to avoid and which we fall into so easily.
Look up this verse in the Song of Songs.
Bahya: "what" to "100"
The parasha tells us: ma Hashem Elokekha shoel meimakh,
(ma, what does God ask of you?). This is what we have
been talking about: the demands that accompany love. Rabbenu
Bahya (10, 12) expands on Tractate Menahot 43 b: "do
not say ma (what), but mea (100), which represents the
100 blessings which we say every day."
The essence of our study is that if we are open, receptive
and positive, then we can attain happiness, and a state
of benediction and completeness; thus in order to create
the word mea, the Sages added to ma the letter alef which
stands for God.
we integrate into us the presence of God, which represents
total love and kindness, then a state of benediction will
reign: but we must do this throughout the day, in every
little thought and feeling, and so we say 100 blessings!
This is also why we repeat four times a day the shema
Yisrael, and this mitzva of love, ahava (twice in the
morning prayer, once in the evening prayer and once before
going to sleep). This then is the fundamental question:
how to move forward from "what" (ma), from blindness,
insensitivity and monotony to "100" (mea), to
receptivity, fruition and joy, "ekev, following you."
world is a relationship
The specific Jewish aspect of this parasha is that its
teaching is not simply a code for successful human or
marital relationships, but should be understood as a rule
that is fundamental to the functioning of creation.
When we are able to understand the nuances of the Torah
in Hebrew, then we will be able to understand this teaching
of the Torah at all its levels. Those who do not see the
text as a call and do not hear its music in their hearts,
cannot really discover the message of Judaism: the parasha
tells us, "hearken and live by the Torah."
is in God
Moshe's humility, a quality every Jew should have, lies
in the fact that he accepted this rule and its source
in the dignity of God and did not act according to his
own set of rules. He had such total trust that he never
despaired of others, of his people or of God. He could
see in others the presence of divine kavod, honor.
Happy are those who understand each other and love each
other and see the presence of this divine kavod in others.
When they are able to do this, they will be incapable
of despising others or speaking ill of them, in their
thoughts or in their hearts. Their attitude to their neighbors,
colleagues at work, taxi drivers, strangers will ipso
facto improve immediately. And if they lapse, which is
normal, they will correct themselves quickly.
On this basis, we can now understand what Rabbi Eliahu
ben Moshe Vidas, the pupil of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (1522-1570
and author of Pardes Rimonim), writes about our love for
God in Reshit Hokhma (The Beginning of Wisdom, 1575).
He devotes lengthy chapters to this subject while Rabbenu
Bahya, the author of Hovot halevavot (The duties of the
Hearts) focused more on moral behavior.
Rabbi Vidas insists on the fact that love demands everything
("with all your heart, with all your body and with
all your possessions") and that the "whole"
of the Torah is based on this. He demonstrates, through
the Torah, how true love is gratuitous and does not require
anything in return, nor in this world or in the world
Love demands preference, exclusivity, stability, desire,
proximity, loving another like oneself, recognizing the
other's needs, and doing everything to ensure they lack
nothing. This is how human beings love one another because
this is how God loved us initially and because He needs
to be loved by us too.
that love can only blossom if each person is conscious
of its source and that the source is pure and good. Then
love recognizes good in others and responds with goodness.
Love implies control of our yetzer hara, our evil instinct
and our tendency to be possessive of an object (money,
and re-integration of our negative drives under the control
Since this takes place from the moment our tiniest impulses
awaken (hitorerut), we say that love is in the heart (ahava
ba lev), that God demands the heart (rahamana liba bae,
Sanhedrin 106b), and that love must envelop the whole
being (ahavat nefesh mamash).
This goodness, disinterestedness and total love derive
from the fact that this is how God loves, and He created
us in this way and in His image.
The parasha puts great emphasis on this aspect, so that
Judaism would not be just a religion based on knowledge,
customs and duties; for God demands the heart. This is
his model and this is the model for all human relations.
The fruit of this attitude is joy (simha, also a name
given to women and men) says Reshit Hokhma. Man's destructive
drive is controlled by goodness, thus leading to fruition
and joy. Where doubt, bitterness, anxiety, sadness and
evil may prevail, the voluntary return towards goodness
leads to joy, security, and trust.
of trust: "you"
It is Avraham and his immense trust and receptivity who
was the first to say "you" (at) to a spouse:
"Behold now I know that thou art a fair woman to
look upon, you" (Bereshit 12, 11); and he discovers
the first "you" in the history of mankind. My
students, many of whom received an education devoid of
Jewish religion, immediately understand the richness of
their culture when we study this verse and note how Avraham
tells his wife that he has seen her external and her inner
beauty from alef to tav (from A to Z), as symbolized in
the Hebrew word at (you).
The Torah asks us to see through the banality of external
appearances in order to discover the inner beauty of the
heart which is worthy (kavod) of being loved and which
inspires in us care and kindness. This is what the Torah
means by "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself"
(veahavta lereakha kamokha, Vayikdra 19, 18).
image of Hashem
All this is in the image of Hashem's love for us. It is
He who loved us first and who teaches us how to love and
tells us how to love one another according to His way,
and by which He created the world. This is why I have
called my book on the Talmud: Lev, heart.
we wish for?
That the Torah should be better known;
That couples should discover, through the Torah, the code
That friends should discover, through the Torah, the codes
of respect, fraternity and trust;
That men should recognize that they are made in the image
Then we will be closer to Gan Eden.
to the Shla, Hakadosh Barukh Hu needed this so much (avoda
tzorekh gavoa) that in his impatience and frustration
at man's behavior, He chose a tiny people to give his
message to and this is the nation of Israel.
He begs them: "Hearken, Israel," and awaits
dismiss this and do not even try to live this way -- in
goodness and in love (because they have been hurt, are
ignorant or scared).
The teaching of this eminent rabbi helps us to understand
why there is no difference or contradiction between self-development
through therapy or education and the approach taught by
the Torah. In his commentary on this parasha, he shows
how the Sages developed the Jewish concept of man through
the Torah and how the highest levels (the completeness
of the neshama) can only be achieved through knowledge
and self-development at the level of the nefesh (being,
identity, and psychological growth). Only when a being
is in harmony with its source can it go on to higher levels
Rabbi Abuhatzera also teaches us that this equilibrium
is destroyed every day and that we, our relationships
and the world must be reconstructed every day; this is
why the morning prayer is so important and long.
- Re-read the entire parasha in this perspective,
- at each point, examine your own relationships and how
they can be improved,
- learn the vocabulary in this commentary.
for advanced students
Hebrew lesson with Rashi: the meaning
of the particle ki
Each word and each letter of the Torah carries a particular
meaning. Rashi helps us to discover these meanings and
all the great commentators use his interpretations at
every level of transmission.
The teachings of God can only be taught in Hebrew; translations
are inadeqate. The Hebrew four-letter name for God carries
a world of meaning which is not found in the English word
It is important to understand the nuances of every word,
for example ki - a frequently used word (4376 times in
the Tanakh). Refer to the expression ki-tov (that was
good) in the first chapter of Bereshit.
modern Hebrew the word ki means "because"
But at the beginning of verse 7, 17 in this parasha, it
says ki tomar bilevaveka
" If thou shalt say
in thy heart. These nations are more than I; how can I
dispossess them?" (read the verse). Here, ki does
not mean "because." Rashi ststes: "this
ki, you are obliged to understand it in the meaning of
perhaps," al-korhaka leshon dilema hu. He adds: "ve
lo yitakhen leforsho beahat mishear leshonot shel ki,
it is not possible to explain this by one of the other
meanings of ki."
What is he referring to? We have seen before that Rashi's
method is to make a statement without elaborating on it,
for he presumes we know the subject or we are studying
it with a master. See Rashi on Gittin 90 a.
means: ki can have several meanings:
- as in (asher) "that." Analyze Bereshit chapter
1: ki tov. Devarim 17, 12.
- as in (im) "if" (dilema) "perhaps."
Analyze Shemot 21, 2.
- as in (keshe, kaasher) "when." Analyze Shemot
- as in (ella, aval) "but." Analyze Bereshit
32, 29 or Devarim 16, 7-8.
- as in (af al pi she, gam im) "although." Analyze
Vayikra 11, 4 or Psalms 25, 11.
- as in (deha, mipne, mishum, mikevan she, ahare she)
"since." Analyze Bereshit 19, 8.
- as in ( belo safek, azai) "undoubtedly." Analyze
Bamidbar 22, 29.
Furthermore, ki has such a serious connotation that it
is sometimes translated as a vow, an oath, a prediction
or an imprecation.
deductive meaning of "since"
with emphasis: "since as well, for therefore"
(ki al ken).
Rashi (Bereshit 18, 5).
This has the same meaning as al asher and should always
be translated so: "for therefore came they under
the shadow of my roof" (Bereshit 19,8), as well as
Bereshit 38, 26; 33,10; Numbers 10,31; Bemidbar 14, 43.
¢ God preferred you, chose you, not because you are
¢ smaller than other nations
but because the
¢ loves you
¢ Say this over again and again.
Analyze the different forms of ki in the Torah and in
- Devarim 7, 7: literally: " It is not because you
are more numerous than other nations that Hashem loves
you and chose you, ki but because you are the smallest
among nations." This means: because you consider
yourselves to be small, therefore Hashem loves you
- Analyze the Hebrew in Devarim 15, 11 (ki..al ken) and
Hosea 6, 5.
You will find now other lessons in Biblical Hebrew for