Rather than, “You shall obey Adonai with all your being,” we find instead “you shall love.”
v’ahavta et-Adonai Eloheicha bechōl-levavcha uvchōl-nafshecha uvchol-me’ōdecha, וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶךָ, “You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart and all your being, as extremely as possible.”
To render Deuteronomy 6:5 as literally as possible, it would say “with all your heart, being, and muchness.”
It follows, of course, on the verse that has become the defining statement of Jewish belief, the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4). Translating the Shema, we find two strong possibilities. The more familiar rendering is, “Hear, Israel, Adonai our God, Adonai is one.” This version emphasizes the oneness of God, although we are still left wondering if it means “uniqueness” or “indivisibleness.” But we may also translate it, “Adonai our God is Adonai alone,” a declaration of God’s uniqueness in a world of many alleged deities.
Questions about the translation of the Shema aside, we move from it into the command about what our dedication to the one Adonai must be like. Here is where the great surprise is found. It is not a command to be subject to him, or to give a sacrifice for him, or to do any specific thing. It is a command instead involving our emotions in addition to our thoughts and actions.
Rather than, “You shall obey Adonai with all your being,” we find instead “you shall love.” Even saying, “You shall love Adonai,” does not capture the force of this remarkable verse of Torah. The extent of that love is defined threefold: “with all your heart and all your being, as extremely as possible.”
The heart לֵבַב encompasses mind and emotions. The being נֶפֶשׁ is a totalizing word, potentially describing any and every capacity of who we are. What I have rendered “as extremely as possible” is more literally “with all your muchness,” all your מְאֹד.
To say that this commandment is difficult or that it demands all of who we are is still not saying enough. God who is invisible, hiding himself and leaving us to seek him out in the quiet and confusion, has passed down to us through the Torah a way of living based on the total devotion of love for him. It is a feeling and a decision, a commitment and a passion.
How can we have the right decisions and a true commitment? We must learn to cultivate the feelings of love for this hidden God and develop a passion for his unseen presence. This can only be done by regular, repeated, cyclical, and frequent acts of connecting with God, desiring his presence, and seeing the unseen. This above all other things will make our lives great.