Recited in our daily Shema prayer, we encounter a powerful and thought-provoking pasuk: “And it will be, if you listen to my commandments that I command you this day to love Hashem, your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” This pasuk emphasizes the importance of obedience to God’s commandments, and it sets the condition for experiencing a profound connection with Him. Additionally, the Torah reminds us that loving and serving God is not merely an intellectual exercise; it requires wholehearted dedication and a genuine commitment from the depths of our souls.
If we delve deeper into the context of this passage and the surrounding psukim, we discover more profound insights about our relationship with God, and the nature of spiritual journeys. The pasuk’s repetition of “this day” (הַיֹּום) is significant, as the word “today” appears not just here but throughout the Parsha as well, serving as a guiding word that focuses on the present moment. Rav Kook suggests that “today” is a moment that is always present (even in the future), implying that our own spiritual journey requires mindfulness and an awareness of God’s presence in the here and now. Zooming in on that, we can further break down every moment of life as an opportunity to strengthen, or heaven forbid, weaken our connection to God.
Living a life based on the values of the Torah is not a zero-sum game, as whatever right or whatever wrong you have done in your past is not relevant to the commandment to serve God today and follow His commandments today. Right now, you have the commandment to serve God; what you did in the past or will do in the future is irrelevant to the present.
I’m reminded of the time I was staying at a Chabad center for Shabbat and there were not-yet shomer-Shabbat individuals, who, living far away from the center, drove their cars to Chabad for Shabbat morning davening (plus, like all of us, for the kiddush as well). Out of respect for the Rabbi, they didn’t park in the shul parking lot, but rather in the empty lot across the street. After kiddush, these individuals walked back to their cars and I saw the rabbi walking alongside them, chatting with them, laughing with them, and making them feel very comfortable. After the people drive off, I come up to the rabbi and ask for an explanation why he walked them to the car, knowing full well that they were about to violate Shabbat by driving. The rabbi (paraphrasing) replied that: “these people come to shul to connect; who am I to make them feel uncomfortable? What they do before or after they leave the Chabad house is irrelevant to the now and to the fact that they want to do Mitzvot now, I will happily provide them with a comfortable judgement-free zone for them to do so.”
Are we all on the level of R’ Chanowitz of Chabad? No. But what we can do, maybe, is to be a little less hard and judgy towards the people we interact with, and understand that, just like yourself, people are on a journey with spiritual highs and spiritual lows. Imagine you are on one of your spiritual lows, be it in your teenage phase, 20’s phase or 30’s phase, and someone would say something negative about your spiritual low or make you feel unwelcome within your home or within your community; would you ever be on the spiritual high that you are on today and be the wonderful contributor to the Jewish community that you are today? Be aware of that before confronting others about their religious levels or being too hard on yourself, and by continuously serving God each day with all your heart and with all your soul, may you continuously reach new spiritual heights that would make your former self proud.