This afternoon I had to get a quick text message to an Israeli colleague. I went to my WhatsApp application and searched for his contact information. As I pulled up his record, I noticed that his status said V’ahavta; meaning “and you will love.” I paused. I’m accustomed to seeing statuses like “Busy”; “Available”; “Hey there! I am using WhatsApp”; etc. But this – V’ahavta – was a matter worth exploring. What was the intent behind using that simple, yet powerful word? I was curious.
I called him. After the pleasantries and business matters were covered, I asked directly. “So, what’s with the V’ahavta?
He laughed and replied, “Do you know the Shema?”
“Of course I do.”
“Okay,” he continued, “and do you know the second paragraph that begins with V’ahavta?”
“And are you familiar with the command ‘V’ahavta Le’reh’echa Kamocha’?”
He didn’t need to continue. I immediately understood the connection without the explanation he offered. And as he continued I realized, once again, how cool it is that I work in a place – in a community – where these conversations are okay to have during the day…where they make sense…where they help us remember that it’s not about “us.”
* * *
So what does it all mean?
Shema Yisrael – known as the Shema – is a prayer that is important to the Jewish people. It’s like our Pledge of Allegiance. It declares that God, our God, is the one and only God. The second paragraph of the Shema begins with, V’ahavta – “And you will love God, your God, with all your heart, and with your whole soul, and with all your might.”
If you believe in God, and if you love God, then what?
V’ahavta Le’reh’echa Kamocha comes from the book of Leviticus (19:18) and translates to “Love your neighbor [your friend] as yourself.” God, like a parent, wants us to get along with and take care of each other. The entire Torah tries to teach us how to behave; how to interact with others. Yet time and time again, we read of egos, jealousies, and fears that divide us. We also learn of the ways in which misunderstandings, insecurities, and self-doubt prevent us from treating others properly. And so, we are taught to love others as we would love ourselves; to treat people as we want to be treated.
What’s the point at the end of the day?
When we give of ourselves fully – to serve, care for, and help others – especially those who are marginalized or are in need of support – we demonstrate our allegiance to and love of God. If we do what is right with integrity, treat others with concern and respect, all will be right with the world. And, that’s how we’ll make things better. That’s what it’s all about.