SALT - Friday, 15 Av 5776 - August 19, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Parashat Vaetchanan includes the first paragraph of the text of the daily Shema recitation, in which the Torah commands us to love God with “all your heart,” with “all your soul,” and with “kol me’odekha” (6:5).  Rashi, based on the Gemara (Berakhot 61b), explains the term “me’odekha” as a reference to one’s financial assets.  According to this interpretation, the Torah here commands us to be prepared to sacrifice our property when this is necessary for the sake of God.  The Gemara, as Rashi cites, raises the question of why this command was necessary, in light of the fact that this verse also commands us to love God “with all your soul,” which Chazal explain as a reference to the requirement to sacrifice one’s life for God under certain circumstances.  Seemingly, once we are required to be prepared to surrender even our lives for God, it is understood that we must be prepared to sacrifice our material possessions, as well.  The Gemara explains that the command of “be-khol me’odekha” is necessary because there are some people who cherish their money more than their lives.  For them, the Torah needed to emphasize that their obligations to the Almighty must be a higher priority than not only their lives, but also their material possessions, which they cherish more than anything else.

            Much has been written about the Gemara’s suggestion that the Torah here addresses people who value their money more than their lives.  Why would the Torah find it necessary to speak to such fools?

            One possibility, suggested by the Tolna Rebbe, is that the Gemara here seeks to teach us that the command of ahavat Hashem is relevant to us all, even to those who fallen to such depths of foolishness that they prioritize their money over their physical wellbeing.  We might have assumed that such a lofty requirement, the command of ahavat Hashem, which requires developing a strong emotional bond with God and being prepared to make great sacrifices for Him, is reserved for the spiritual elite, or at least excludes those on the lower spiritual rungs.  The Gemara teaches us that even as we are mired in the abyss of grave misconceptions and misplaced priorities, we are bound by this vital mitzva.  We are each to love and devote ourselves to the Almighty on his or her level, in whatever position a person happens to be in at any given moment.  Our job is to do and achieve to the best of our ability at our current level, and so we must never despair and think that we have fallen too far for the Torah’s laws to continue being relevant to us and our lives.  Regardless of our current spiritual standing, the Torah speaks to us, obliges us, and calls upon us to work hard to take whatever steps forward that we can.