Rabbi Nachi Friedman
In this week’s Torah portion, we read the famous first paragraph of Shema that we recite twice a day. Deuteronomy 6:5 states וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ בְּכׇל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכׇל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכׇל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ׃ You shall love your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Sefer Chinuch, in his compilation of all 613 mitzvos learns from this verse the commandment to love Hashem. One is not just required to observe the mitzvos by performing certain actions and refraining from doing others, but one is required to invoke a feeling of love to one’s creator.
How does one love G-d and fulfill this mitzvah? Isn’t love a feeling not a choice/action? The Sefer Chinuch asks this question. He writes in Mitzvah 418 quoting the Sifri:איני יודע כיצד אוהב אדם את המקום I do not know how a person is supposed to love G-d.
Sefer Chinuch suggests that the answer lies in the next verse. וְהָי֞וּ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אָנֹכִ֧י מְצַוְּךָ֛ הַיּ֖וֹם עַל־לְבָבֶֽךָ׃ Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. The performance of mitzvos will invoke feelings of love. Based on this it seems strange that 1) Loving Hashem is a separate mitzvah if it is accomplished by doing other mitzvos, 2) Is it even true that doing other commandments invokes love? How can we better understand this mitzvah of loving Hashem?
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Harris & Hayes distinguish between goals and values. Goals are things we are used to making. These are projects and items we can accomplish and check off of a checklist. An example of a goal is to wake up early on a weekday, go to the gym once a week, or run a marathon. Values are ideas that bring us meaning, direction and pride. These are not one-off things that we can simply accomplish but are ways of life. Examples of values are honesty, dependability, and courage. One cannot simply be honest one day and lie the next day.
ACT further posits that when one accomplishes a goal that is not aligned with their own values they have not optimized the impact of their actions and may not feel joy from this accomplishment. In fact, in some circumstances, one may even experience depressing feelings when achieving a goal. One example of this is a concept called Post Series Depression. Post-Series Depression is the sadness felt after reading or watching a really long series or story (Lacklitter, 2020). It is the bitter feeling when you know the journey is over, but you don’t want it to end. The feeling of accomplishment and loss at the same time creates a vacuum in one’s life. It is difficult to persevere and move on to a new show or series. This is because the goal of finishing the show is merely an isolated goal and not aligned with one’s values.
On the other hand, ACT states that when one accomplishes a goal in line with his or her values it creates a life of meaning and happiness. Harries & Hayes point out that this happiness does not mean life will be 100% joyous with no pain or sadness. ACT builds on Aristotle’s concept of Eudaimonic Happiness where one lives life on a journey towards his or her values providing meaning and direction throughout life. Knowing they are on the right path and living consistent to their values creates genuine and pure happiness.
One final idea Harris & Hayes stress is that living a life you want to lead does not mean there won’t be pain and hardship. Just because health/fitness is a top priority does not mean it is easy to wake up at 5 am to go to the gym. It merely means you will feel better and happier about your investment in attending the workout even when you are really tired. ACT posits that even if your life is too chaotic right now to create goals towards our values, it does not mean you cannot do small projects or small actions each day. If studying Torah is a value but the individual has no time to set up a chavrusa or attend classes at the local Shul, one can accomplish living the life you want to lead by merely setting a small amount of time (even 5 minutes) every day to study as it aligns the individual with their value.
I’d like to suggest that the mitzvah of וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ Love Hashem is mitzvah to make loving Hashem a value in one’s life. This commandment states that one shouldn’t just set aside time to reflect on the relationship but to live a life aligned towards creating, maintaining and pursuing a loving relationship between man and G-d. Unlike goal-oriented mitzvos like sitting in a sukkah, blowing shofar or wearing tefillin which are accomplished at a specific time, this is a mitzvah that encompasses one’s entire life. Like the Chinuch stated above, one accomplishes the mitzvah of loving Hashem by performing other mitzvos. If one performs other mitzvos (goal-oriented mitzvos) that are aligned with the mitzvah of loving Hashem (Value oriented mitzvah) one will increase his or her relationship with Hashem and live a more meaningful life. Instead of studying Torah today or praying just to perform your daily requirements, study or pray with the intent to increase one’s relationship and love with Hashem. By aligning goals with one’s values, one is able to optimize the joy and impact of their goals.
May we all find ways to live our lives consistent with our goals despite the challenges and other obstacles in life. May we all increase our Eudaimonic Happiness by not just not accomplishing goals from our checklist, but prioritizing the goals that are more consistent with our values. Wishing everyone a wonderful shabbos!
Harris, R., & Hayes, S. C. (2019). Act made simple: an easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy (2nd ed., Ser. The new harbinger made simple ser). New Harbinger Publications. Retrieved August 10, 2022, from https://public.ebookcentral.proquest.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=5748522.
Kottasz, R., Bennett, R., & Randell, T. (2019). Post-series depression: scale development and validation. Arts and the Market, 9(2), 132–151.
Leckliter, Mel. (2020, January 6). Psychologists on how to fill the emptiness you feel after bingeing a great show. MEL Magazine. Retrieved August 11, 2022, from https://melmagazine.com/en-us/story/psychologists-on-how-to-fill-the-emptiness-you-feel-after-binging-a-great-show