Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Torah Connection - Va'etkhanan

In this parsha (I'm almost caught up!) we read the reprise of the Ten Commandments, as well as the Shema prayer.

4 Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day.7 Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; 9 inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Why are we commanded to love G*d?  What does that even mean?!  Is it not enough that we do what we are supposed to?  How can we love something like G*d, which we can't even fathom? How can we be commanded to love in the first place?  Isn't love something that is just inspired within us? How can we love intentionally if the feeling is not there? If the knowledge of G*d's awesomeness does not inspire love, how can we fulfill this commandment?

Rabbi Menken addresses this in a way that I find has great relevance.  First, we must study Torah, to give us the background and the basis for love. But that is just preparation for love.  Then, we must perform Mitzvot - commandments - with the intention of forging a true love.  This is a lifelong process:

It is certainly possible for a person to learn for a while, do some Mitzvos, and wonder why he or she doesn't feel more. Isn't the sky supposed to open up, or something similarly profound supposed to happen? The answer is that nothing like that is guaranteed, or even expected. Judaism isn't about leaps of faith, but about slow, logical steps, a progression of ongoing development and self-perfection. This is something that lasts a lifetime -- the obligation isn't to feel everything tomorrow, but to begin taking the necessary steps to achieve that feeling, today!

This sounds a lot like how our love for our children develops, especially in adoption!  We read, think, plan and prepare for a child, and in some cases this creates profound, intense love for the child before s/he arrives. In many cases, however, parents struggle to bond to their child.  Post-partum depression is very common, and a similar phenomenon is even more common in adoption. As we do the day-to-day tasks of caring for and nurturing him/her, our love emerges.  

The same is true in marriages, as well.  As Tevye's wife Golde sings in Fiddler on the Roof:

For twenty-five years I've lived with him
Fought him, starved with him
Twenty-five years my bed is his
If that's not love, what is?

It is through the struggles and the joys of life together that the bonds of love are forged.  Many people think that this view of marriage is outdated, belonging to the era of arranged marriages.  However, even a couple who marries after falling in love experiences a transformation through the commitment to work through low points in the relationship.  Falling in love is the preparation for love.  The love itself is in the doing.  The love of a couple who has stuck it out "for better or worse" is very different from one that is based on honeymoon-like self-gratification.

Another reading of this passage makes the connection even clearer.  The verse reads:

  וְאָהַבְתּ, אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ, וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶךָ.

The word אֵת is usually just a connector for a direct object. However, it can be used poetically to mean "with".   In that sense, the verse reads,

And you shall love, together with the Lord your G*d, with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your might.

And you shall love.  We are commanded to love, together with G*d.  We are commanded to love our neighbor, as s/he is loved by G*d.  We are commanded to love the spark of the divine within each person. What does it mean to love G*d? It means to love people, who are loved by G*d and are in the image of G*d.

I blogged about the double-meaning of אֵת before. It was nearly a year ago.  I had to search to find the context for that post, and I must say, I did a double-take.

'I Myself am establishing a covenant with you and your offspring after you.
Va'ani hineni mekim et-beriti itechem ve'et-zar'achem achareychem.

Here the word is usually translated "with" and I chose to re-read it as a direct object connector. But what is the context?  The divine covenant with..... our children.

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