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The Obligations of Love

To feel love is to feel responsibility. When I love someone, I am invested in their well being and thriving. I feel a responsibility to help and support them, to be present in loss and in joy. Put another way, I thought being a parent was an eighteen year responsibility. But I forgot that a parent falls in love with their children. The love never abates, it only grows and enriches as one’s children uncover their fullest selves. Meaning: my responsibilities to them may have changed (they can brush their own teeth…) but still exist. I am present for them. I listen to them. I offer them care when they need it. I am open to their advice and love of me. To feel love is to feel responsibility. Thus says the Torah: listen and then feel love.

When I encounter the Divine, that otherness which connects all of us, that power that transcends and yet exists both in and out of the world, that feeling or force that we sometimes name God, I am encountering the source of love, the source of Hesed. I experience that encounter in different ways and moments. Sometimes, it is intentional. I am in a moment of prayer and feel the room fall away and I am connected to something beyond myself. Other times it is a surprise. I am in the beauty of the world and so awestruck that I encounter that which lies behind and beneath that beauty. Sometimes I sense this encounter is with a deep element of myself.

Yet in all these ways, I encounter something that is formative of love. I am touching that which forms love and so in that touch I become formed to love. I am also aware of doubt. There are moments when I question that connection and wonder if it isn’t in my own subjective experience and relates not at all to the objective world. In this way faith is a choice. I choose to accept this subjective experience of that which forms love as true. I choose to live my life in contact with this life force that we call God because I cannot be certain of anything.

In this contact that forms love, obligation awakens. I am called to remove the obstacles and distractions that create an illusion of separation.  I understand that as an obligation to pray and practice.  I see in the practice of Shabbat or Kashrut a way of being that enables me to experience the connection from which the obligation awakens in the first place. This is the metaphor of clearing away the nations from the holy land. It is, on a spiritual level, removing the distractions of fear and separation that close us off to God.

At the same time in feeling that love and connection obligation to all that is awakens. Ethical precepts become law because of love. In my connection, I am also called to act. This is no abstract love of humanity. This is a love for and of each person simply because they are human. For within them also is a key to the all, to the Divine. I feel obliged to create a world in which that other flourishes alongside me. Only then am I fully honoring the Divine encounter.

Moses has been instructing us to enter the holy land. I believe one level of that speech is an invitation to notice and live in the presence of God. We enter a realm of meaning, of obligation, but most strongly of love. In so doing, we choose blessing.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Booth

Wed, June 19 2024 13 Sivan 5784