Parshat Va’etchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11
“G-d is in my heart; I don’t need all this religious stuff,” someone told me a while ago.
My response was simple: “My wife is in my heart; I don’t need all the religious stuff. You know: the flower-buying, the garbage-throwing, the car-pooling, the diaper-changing.”
He smiled, but I wasn’t kidding. After all, Judaism — just like a good marriage — is a “do-good” religion, not a “feel-good” one. It is our actions that shape our life and our destiny; not our feelings.
This is why the commandments that instruct us to “love” in the Torah are always connected to deed. For example, in this week’s portion, in the famous verses of the Shema prayer, G-d commands us to “love the Lord your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
But how so? The answer: “Talk about them [the teachings of the Torah] when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.”
In other words, in order to love G-d, you can’t just keep Him in your heart. Rather, you must put Him “in your mouth” (“talk about Him … to your children”), and you must also ensure that your love for Him is translated into deeds, such as wearing tefilin on your arms and forehead (“tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads,”) and affixing mezuzahs on the door frames of your home (“write them on the door frames of your houses...”)
Do you remember that lovely chant from “Fiddler on the Roof?” After 25 years of marriage, Tevye, the milkman, asks his wife, Golda, if she loves him. Baffled, Golda replies to herself, “For 25 years I’ve lived with him, fought with him, starved with him, 25 years my bed is his — if that’s not love, what is?” But Tevye is dissatisfied. So he persists: “Then, do you love me?” And Golda finally confesses: “I suppose I do.”
Their words reveal a powerful truth: Love comes with toil. It doesn’t just appear magically at “first sight.” What appears then may be lust or some other type of attraction. But it certainly isn’t love. For it takes much time, loyal commitment — and most importantly — selfless action, day after day, for true love to emerge.
Victor Hugo, the 19th-century French writer, once wrote: “Our acts make or mar us — we are the children of our own deeds.” Indeed, we may experience all sorts of moods, but at the end of the day it is our actions that make us or mar us. A smile, a helping hand, a generous act can mold us and our lives infinitely more than the emotions of our hearts.
This applies to our Jewish lives, too. For how many of us are reluctant to get involved in Jewish life just because we are intimidated? How many of us are hesitant to move forward in our spiritual journey with study, prayer or a good deed, just because we are not “feeling it”?
Therefore, I invite each of you to join me in adding a mitzvah to our Congregation Beth Tefillah’s “Mitzvah Bank.” Any mitzvah counts. From tefillin to mezuzah, from repairing a relationship to forging a new and impactful one.
Your mitzvah will, without a doubt, bring true love, light and healing to our broken world, and it will make a lasting difference today and tomorrow in our lives, and in our globe, to eternity. JN
Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefillah In Scottsdale.