an enthusiastic word

Written by  rabbi russ resnik

art-taxiIt’s hard to imagine a more enthusiastic response to God than the one commanded in the Shema: “You shall love Hashem your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

We can draw lots of implications from the three-fold description of our human make-up—heart, soul, and might—but the first and plainest meaning of the commandment is to love God with all you’ve got. One Christian scholar comments on how the Shema was read in Yeshua’s day:

“No scribe had any doubt as to what was the collective, united demand made in Deuteronomy 6:5, and that one thing only was here required: a sterling, undivided love for God.”

“Sterling, undivided love for God.” I like that, and it certainly ties into the middah of zerizut, which we translate as enthusiasm or zeal. But of course this raises the question, how do we cultivate this enthusiasm? The Shema itself provides a way:

Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. 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. Deut. 6:6–7 NJPS

Does this mean that we’re supposed to be Bible-bangers, quoting scripture verses at every turn and annoying everyone around us? Probably not, but in avoiding that sort of behavior, I believe we’ve over-compensated, and become more concerned with being cool, sophisticated, understated, than with being excited about God and his word. As my colleague Benjamin Ehrenfeld writes here at Riverton Mussar, “Around the time I entered high school I discovered that it was not ‘cool’ to be enthusiastic.” If enthusiasm is uncool in general, enthusiasm for “these instructions”—i.e. God’s word—looks really uncool. But, of course, that’s the point; zerizut by definition isn’t cool. It’s hot, excited, charged up for the right things.

So this week, we can work on speaking out Scripture, finding opportunities to reference or recite phrases or verses from God’s word that are relevant to the situation at hand. Recently I was in a taxi on my way to an early morning flight and the cabbie and I started talking about politics, which inevitably led to bemoaning the double talk and corruption of the whole system. So, I took the opportunity to put in a good word for Hashem. “Well, I’m just glad that there’s another kingdom – and someday it’s going to be established over the whole earth.” The cabbie, to my surprise, responded with something rather poetic, like, “And then all things will be put right.”

This was about 5:00AM, but our little interchange left me with enthusiasm the rest of the day, for overcoming my introversion and for speaking up for Hashem and his word.

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