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Home » D'varim Parshah, Ninth of Av, Seventeenth of Tamuz

Devarim: Do You Love G-d or Youeself?

Submitted by on July 31, 2011 – 3:37 amNo Comment | 3,014 views

What have We Learned?

It is nearly two-thousand years since the Holy Temple stood as a glorious testament to G-d on the Temple Mount. It was ransacked and razed by a marauding mob that cared little for the nuanced relationship between the human and G-d. As the Temple smoldered in the ashes of ruin our people moaned and cried; their hearts were torn asunder. Today, nearly two-thousand years later, it is difficult to muster new tears. We have cried aplenty. The time has come to rebuild.

To rebuild we need to learn from our past or risk repeating our follies. The question before us is have we learned our lessons and if we have, what are they?

The Temple Experience

The Talmudic description of the temple experience is nothing short of awesome. It wasn’t possible to worship in the temple and not be moved on the deepest level. The lyrical singing, the celestial music, the pious priests and inspirational ceremony moved us to see and feel G-d, manifest in our presence.

Today we cannot understand what it means to see G-d, but our ancestors experienced precisely that in temple worship. It was impossible to stand in the temple and remain absorbed in self. The experience wrested them out of their skin and moved them to celestial, eternal, and indeed G-dly, thoughts.

This is not replicable today. We have our moments of reflection and inspiration, we have our spiritual experiences and religious awakenings, but nothing can compare to the spiritual high of a Jew in the Temple. We have no memory of that time and have no way to reenact it. Judaism has had its spirituality watered down. It’s pathways to G-d, severely restricted.do you love G-d or yourself - innerstream

Still, even if those stirring experiences cannot be brought back to life we can at least remember that this is the Judaism to which we ought to aspire. We cannot be content with the watered down version of today. We must aim higher. As Leo Burnett often said, “If you aim for the stars you might not quite get one, but you won’t end up with a handful of mud either.”

What is the real religion of the past and what is the watered down version of today?

Whom Do You Serve?

It all boils down to one question: Whom do you serve? Our religion is filled with rules, but rules are not the essence of religion. They are its byproduct. In the Temple Jews followed the same rules that we do, but the laws weren’t ends, they were means. They were means that led to G-d.

The primary thrust of their religious expression was their love for G-d. G-d was real to them and they loved Him. Because they loved G-d they did what G-d wanted. They were in a relationship. They didn’t sit in the Sukkah because they had to. They sat in the Sukkah because their beloved wanted them to.

When your spouse asks for a favor, do you say yes because you are a proper sort of person and what proper people do or because the person you love asked you to do it? In other words, are you obsessed with doing the right thing or are you in love with your spouse? If you are the former, then you are sadly in love with or perhaps even obsessed by yourself, not with your spouse.

How sad to be in a loving relationship and to be obsessed with yourself. Your spouse loves you and wants your love in return, but you can’t give it because you have nothing left to give. You have expended it all on yourself.

This is a pitiful state. We look in the mirror and assure ourselves that we are not all that pathetic. In fact, so ridiculous is this scenario that no one we know is quite like that. Obsessed with self? Why, that is a serious mental ailment, right?

Sadly many in society are just like that. And if it is true with respect to marriage, it is even truer with respect to G-d.

In the modern day religious debate centers on gay marriage, abortion and birth control, all dogmatic and didactic subjects that bear down heavily on our freedoms. Is this centered on G-d? Does G-d want us to walk around all day scowling at those who turn from him? I would think a loving G-d wants a relationship with all people, even His sinners.

G-d wants us to love Him. If we love Him we will want to please Him and do what He wants. Religious leaders need to focus more on shepherding their flock to a better understanding and embrace of G-d and less on the doctrines of the permitted and forbidden.

We can fight darkness all night long and we will never drive it away. To drive away the night all we need to do is kindle a light. We must shine the light of G-d’s love and His all encompassing embrace. We must light the torch of love in the hearts of our fellow and the rest will follow quite naturally.


If we desire the return of our Temple we have to contemplate our own return to G-d. When we do this, when we come to love Him more than we love ourselves, when we make His presence palpable in our lives to the point that He as real to us as the people we love, then we will embrace His rules and desires wholeheartedly and from a place of joy. That is the road that leads to the rebuilding of our Temple.

We See It In The Torah

This serves to clear up an apparent anomaly in the Torah. The Torah speaks of the nations that resided on the borders of Israel and were conquered by our ancestors on their way to the Holy Land. Yet, rather than speak of them in the past tense the Torah describes their presence along Israel’s border in the present tense. (Deuteronomy 1: 4.) Why is that?

One of the early Chassidic Masters, Reb Yisroel of Kuznits explained that these nations are described in the present tense because just as these nations attempted to block our ancestors’ entry into the Holy land, so do we, in the current era, place barriers around ourselves to prevent our entry into the virtual Holy Land. Our self centeredness, exaggeration of our needs, amplification of our pleasures and lifelong obsession with our dignity and ourselves are barriers to a loving relationship with G-d.

Just as our ancestors overcame their barrier so can we. They battled external enemies and used weapons of war. We battle internal enemies and use weapons of mind and heart. Neither of us could win our battle without Divine intervention. G-d helped our ancestors, but only after they initiated their war. He will help us too, but only after we initiate our struggle.

We need to board the bus. The driving, we can leave to Him.

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