Parashat Vaetchanan includes the first paragraph of the daily Shema recitation, in which we are commanded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” (6:5).
Rashi cites two explanations of this command from the Sifrei, the second of which is, “she-lo yiheyeh libekha chaluk al ha-Makom” – literally, “that your heart shall not be divided with regard to the Almighty.” At first glance, this appears to mean that the command to love God “with all your heart” requires us to be devoted to Him without any equivocation or reluctance. Rav Shlomo of Karlin, however, is cited as having interpreted the Sifrei’s comment in more specific terms, as requiring us to remain devoted to the Almighty in all settings. Oftentimes, the Rebbe of Karlin observed, people become lax in their Torah fulfillment in certain settings or under certain circumstances, and they absolve themselves of accountability by pointing to the challenges of their situation. The command of “be-khol levavekha,” to love the Almighty “with all your heart,” counters this attitude, requiring us to remain steadfast in our fealty to God regardless of the circumstances.
The Tolna Rebbe noted that according to this understanding of “she-lo yiheyeh libekha chaluk al ha-Makom,” this explanation offered by the Sifrei closely relates to its other explanation, as cited by Rashi. This other approach given by the Sifrei – which appears also in the Mishna (Berakhot 9:5) – explains the command to love God “with all your heart” to mean “bi-shnei yetzarekha” – with both our natural inclinations, with both our positive instincts and impulses, and our negative instincts and impulses. One way of understanding this requirement is that we must remain devoted to God even when we feel strong inner resistance to obeying His commands. We all, at various different times and in various different situations, feel the need to struggle against our natural instincts to do the right thing and to obey Torah law. Chazal here teach us that even under such conditions, we are not absolved of our Torah obligations. Our religious responsibilities do not depend on our mood or natural proclivities at any given moment. Even when we need to struggle, we are bound to comply with the Torah’s laws. The Torah was given not to angels, but to human beings, who are created with conflicting “yetzarim,” with both positive and negative tendencies. Struggle and inner conflict, therefore, is part and parcel of Torah life. Our Torah obligations are relevant and binding not only when we feel naturally inclined to fulfill them, but also in situations of challenge and struggle, when we are not instinctively drawn to fulfill our duties.
According to both interpretations of “be-khol levavekha,” then, this command instructs us to remain faithful and subservient to God even under circumstances that do not naturally lend themselves to faithfulness and subservience, that in all situations, we must do the best we can, within our human limitations, to observe the Torah’s laws.