Teach to Love

Steven Kepnes
Colgate University

Devarim – Deuteronomy
Chapter 6: 1-11

1 Now this is the commandment– the laws and the rules– which The LORD your God commanded, to teach you, that you might do them in the land that you are about to cross over to, to possess–

2 So that you might fear The LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments, which I command you–you, your child, and your grandchild– all the days of your life; so that your days may be lengthened.

3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and beware to do it; that it may be well with you, and that you may increase mightily, as The LORD, the G-d of your fathers, hath promised you–a land flowing with milk and honey.

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord Our God, The Lord Is One.

5 And you shall love The LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

6 And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart;

7 And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.

8 And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.

9 And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house, and upon your gates…

10 And it shall be, when the Lord your God shall bring thee into the land which He swore unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you–great and goodly cities, which you did not build,

11 and houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, and cisterns hewn out, which you did not hew, vineyards and olive-trees, which you did not plant, and you shall eat and be satisfied.

One of the challenges of learning and teaching scripture is to hear it anew and teach it so that it can be received anew. Both teacher and learner need to break open presuppositions about the meaning of the scriptures that have been built up by repetitive hearings in houses of prayer and by a variety of “scientific” approaches to this texts. Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber saw this as a major challenge in their attempt to translate the Hebrew Bible into German.? They came up with a peculiar German that was consciously laced with Hebraisms in the hope that readers could “place themselves anew before the renewed book.” [1] The Society of Scriptural Reasoning affords us another type of opportunity for new hearing, new learning and teaching, as we see and hear our scriptures through the eyes and ears of others for whom our own texts are truly new. The act of teaching and learning the Torah as Jews, along with Muslims and Christians, necessarily places the texts in a different light.? Learning the well-known text along-side and with others, the meaning of a verse of Torah suddenly is no longer so clear. New questions and problems arise, one alternatively becomes embarrassed and proud, and thus the text that formerly was so familiar, is again foreign and opaque. Like all real symbols, the meaning of scripture then becomes as Peter Ochs following C.S. Peirce has described it, “indeterminate” and ? “vague.” ?? And we as scriptural reasoners come together as a new ? “interpretant,” an interpretive community that is called to renegotiate what the text might mean for the present context. [2] ? Since we are reading scripture, we want to retain some sense that the text has a normative priority for us.? Given this priority, which is at once moral and spiritual, we must address the question of how we can use the text in our lives. How can the text be a source of healing for us as Jews, Christians, and Muslims?? And how can it bring hope to our conflict-ridden world?

For this, our first SSR session in the regular program of the AAR, I have assigned myself the task of rereading one of the most well known texts for Jews. ? Deuteronomy 6 includes the Shema , ? “Hear O Israel” (6:4) prayer that has been called the “doxology of Judaism.” This prayer, which is a statement of God’s oneness, is said twice a day in communal worship.? It is recited before going to sleep and its words are to be the last that are uttered before death.? The words of the Shema are written on parchment and placed in the tefillin or phylacteries that are worn in morning prayer. The words are also placed in small boxes , mezzuzot , so that they can be attached to the doorpost of every Jewish home as a signifying marker–here lives a Jew. The verses that follow the Shema, the v’ahavtah , which demand love of God, are almost as well known as the Shema as they are said immediately following the Shema and are also placed in the tefillin and mezuzah .?? Given the ubiquity of the Shema and the v’ahavtah in Judaism, I have chosen them as a test case to see if and how the SSR might allow me and our other Jewish participants to find new meaning and new applications for the words today.? I also hope to see how the words resonate in the ears of Christian and Muslim participants in our SR session.?? Beyond this, the Shema and the v’ahavtah specifically address our theme of teaching and learning scripture and thus they pick up on themes that were introduced by Mike Higton in his discussion of the Gospel of Mark and Vincent Cornell in his discussion of the Qur’an.???

For my analysis I will follow our general procedure in SSR. This means that we start with a presentation of the ” pshat ” or plain sense of the text. I will then attempt to open a space for the second level of interpretation in which we form a hermeneutical community and discuss, collectively, the meanings of the text for us. ? There are, of course, many ways to discuss the pshat.? We could employ philological analysis, historical criticism, form criticism, or traditional exegesis.?? What I try to do however, is to map out the implicit form of reasoning that I find in the text itself with an eye to its place in what George Lindbeck has called the “cultural-linguistic system” of Judaism. [3] This will involve me in a largely “intratextual analysis” of the text of the Shema and v’ahavtah , first in the context of Deuteronomy 6 in which it appears in the Torah and then in the context of Jewish liturgy where the text is regularly recited.? Throughout this analysis, I will pause and, through the use of capital letters, set off a second order of comments and questions for us as the SR community of interpreters.? Here I will attempt to raise questions and open spaces which I hope we, as a collective group, will explore for our practice of group study. ??

An Intratextual Analysis of the Shema and V’Ahavtah with Suggestions for Scriptural Reasoners

Deuteronomy 6 is about a series of “crossings over,” a series of transformations. ? Following our theme of learning and teaching the chapter maps a movement from ignorance to knowledge, from knowing to doing, from learning to teaching. Deuteronomy 6 is about a kind of knowing that is placed on and within the mind, body and soul, so that the teaching not only becomes a form of life but that life itself becomes a kind of sign or teaching or witness.? Deuteronomy 6 is about a special kind of knowing that is also a kind of joy. This joy extends life and spirit and therefore brings concrete bodily rewards. Deuteronomy 6 is about God. It includes a scriptural theology through which God appears as feared commander, as teacher, as lover, as beloved, as parent, but also as utterly transcendent and unique. So in this piece of scripture God too is dynamic and consistently transformed and this is the clue to our own transformation.

In this first line of Deuteronomy 6 we have the major themes of the chapter. ?

Now this is the commandment?the laws and the rules?which The LORD your God commanded, to teach you, that you might do them in the land that you are about to cross over to, to possess.

There is a bit of unclarity about the meaning of “the commandment,” ha-mitsvah. ? Given in the singular, it is perhaps a metonymic expression for all mitsvot, all the “laws and rules;” but it could also refer to the central commandment of the chapter, which comes in line 5?”You shall love the Lord your God…” It is interesting and important too, that the commandment comes first and then the teaching. This seems to say that whether Israel; has understood or not, Israel is first commanded.? Thus, Israel responds when it first receives the Torah in Exodus ” naaseh v nishmah ,” we will do [first] and [then] understand (Ex 24:3).

We have taken this as one of the procedural methods of Scriptural Reasoning. We start by doing Scriptural Reasoning and move toward understanding what we did as we recollect, reflect upon, and organize what already happened. The issue of sequence is addressed further in the verse, so let us now attend to it.

The sequence is: command, teach, do, cross over, possess.?? I am particularly interested in the relation of teaching and doing because this relation seems to me to be the central directive of scriptural pedagogy. ? Scripture sits at the nexus of teaching and action and its task is to bring to two together. Like wisdom sitting daily at the gates (Proverbs 8:35 ), scripture cries out to both the mind and body: you must come together around and through me.? But why does scripture cry out and command this? Why does it repeat the message to bring wisdom and action together incessantly? It must be because learning to do [ lilmod laasot ] what is good is not easy.

[As Paul says, “For I do not do the good that I want” – Romans 7:19.]

It is indeed, the hardest “crossing over” or transformation that Israel is called to do.?? But the verse assures that it is worth it because the reward is real and concrete. ? When learning and doing come together the reward is a crossing over to the promised land. And this reward is not a fleeting thing but a concrete reality that can be possessed!

But reading Deuteronomy 6:1 with Muslims and Christians today leads me to pause over the meaning of th ereward of “The Land” and the meaning of “possessing it.” This reference is clearly one of many biblical warrants that Jews look to establish their claim to the land of Israel. Yet it is interesting how the claim is couched in relation to the doing of mitzvot and to fear of God. Also beginning with verse 6:3 a dynamic arises where the land becomes idealized as “flowing with milk and honey.” This theme is pushed in 6:10-11 so that the land is not earned as a reward for doing mitzvot or as the result of the human work of building, but becomes a pure gift which Israel receives despite the fact that she did no work, no building, hewing, planting, etc.! Is this the grace that Paul will make so much of? Is there a parallel in the Qur’an?

But to return my pshat reading…let us look at verse 6: 2. Here, it seems that the sequence: command, teach, do, crossover, possess, is now interpreted toward a theological meaning. Thus the text seems to say you must learn to do the commandment… “So that you might fear the LORD your God.” ??? Verse 2 calls Israel back to the beginning of the process; what it is that God as teacher is teaching. And it is restated well in Proverbs. “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom (1:7)”??

We might well pause now to consider what the meaning of “fear of God” is, especially since our modern interpreters so quickly want to dispense with the term by transforming it into awe or respect or reverence (see Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation).

A plain sense reading of the consequences of “fear of the Lord” seems to be that it leads to a broadening and intensification of the sequence in verse one.? Thus, Israel must “Beware,” sh,mor, or, be careful to do it.? And the reward is children and grandchildren, a lengthening of days, (v 2) and a “mighty increase” both in descendents of the people Israel and the land now described as “flowing with milk and honey.”

Hear therefore, O Israel, and beware to do it; that it may be well with you, and that you may increase mightily, as The LORD, the God of your fathers, hath promised you–a land flowing with milk and honey.

There is much that could be said about the admittedly difficult term “fear of God” but picking up on the Proverbs image of wisdom who sits at the gate, I would suggest that the “Fear of the God” is a passage that must be traversed and a teaching that must be learned. For only from here can we begin the next even more difficult task and that is to approach the realization of the Lord’s oneness and to come to the gate of? “love of God.”

So now we are here at verse 4, perhaps the central verse of all of Torah. ? The verse referred to in Judaism by its first word: “Shema” or Hear!” We already had this word in verse three, so the repetition of the term tolls out like a bell. As if to startle and shake Israel up, the scripture calls out “HEAR!” “Hear O Israel” For the problem is that Israel hears but does not really listen.

Hear O Israel, The Lord Our God, The Lord Is One.

This is the fundamental statement of Torah. It declares first that the Lord is “our” God, thereby bringing God closer to the people Israel and then declaring God’s oneness. The Rabbi’s understand the oneness of God to mean not only one in the numerical sense, but more importantly, in the sense that the Lord is unique, set apart, alone, unlike anything else. And this thereby establishes again God’s distance from humans.? But from this distance the one God commands what seemingly cannot be commanded, love. Fear, respect, reverence can be commanded, but love? And the type of love that God demands is not simple but unconditional, total. ??

And you shall love The LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your?soul, and with all your might.

Here, the unique one makes himself vulnerable. v’ahavtah: Love me! Here, the utterly transcendent one asks us for what is most intimate and personal. ? The infinite distance collapses to be replaced by an infinite demand for what is most close. The unique one makes his aloneness a detriment; emptiness, a loneliness that requires and demands that the finite and mortal ones, fill it with the only claim humans have to infiniteness, their ability to love.? But God’s infinite demand for our love leaves us with a great question and a greater challenge. How? How do we love you?? Here scripture moves in to provide an answer.

And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart; And you shall teach them diligently unto your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.

Place the words of the Shema and v’ahavtah in that spot between your mind and heart (for the Hebrew word ” lev ” is equally mind and heart) and think with your mind and heart about the words. Let them be there constantly, tolling within you like the beating of your heart. Become a teacher of these words.

Here, we have a crossing over from God as teacher in verse 1 to humans as teachers. And scripture seems to be saying what we, as teachers, know– that we only really come to know a thing when we teach it! Before teaching it, knowing is abstract, as we teach it, we come to know it more deeply.

But whom are humans told to teach the words of the Lord’s oneness and love of God to? “Teach these words to your children.” Knowledge of the love of God is a certain kind of knowledge, a knowledge that needs to be taught with and through love.

Mike Higton suggests that the giving of this knowledge requires the relationship of discipleship. This seems to be a logical extension of the parent-child relationship. But Scripture seems to both include disciples and students and yet go well beyond them to everyone we meet “on our way.”

… And you shall talk of them [the words “The Lord is One…Love God”] when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

Let us pause here to consider this commandment. Let us reflect on how difficult it is. Here, Torah asks humans to speak of the Lord’s oneness and love of God at virtually all times. Here, Torah multiplies the notion of Mitzvah as fulfilling a positive commandment [eating Matzah] or refraining from doing a negative commandment [not eating leaven bread[ to a vague and infinite requirement to repeat [shinantem] words of the Lord’s oneness and love of God continually. Like many of the parables that Mike points us to and the very meaning of the presence of Jesus on earth, the meaning of the command to “talk of the words” is hard to assign. I could quote Mike directly here. “It does not consist in any kind of learning as accumulation. It does not consist in any kind of learning as acquisition of a skill…” Is fulfilling this commandment gained by teachign of the words of Scripture in general? Isn’t all Scripture finally boiled down to “The Lord is One, Love God?”

Without trying to compromise the infinite demand of the commandment, it will behoove us to look at what the Rabbis do with the commandment. Like any social group when faced with a vague rule, the Rabbis interpret and shape the rule so that it is useful and productive for their society. Thus, the commandment to speak of and teach the words of the Shema and the v’ahavtah are interpreted liturgically. And Israel then recites/ sings these words twice a day, at night (when you lie down) and in the morning (when you rise up). And the commandment “you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes” also is interpreted liturgically or ritually.? For the words of the Shema and the v’ahavtah are written on parchment and placed in the Tefillin or Phylacteries and worn on the arm, hand, and head of the worshippers as they say the words in morning prayers. Finally, placing the words in small containers, mezzuzot , and affixing them to doors of buildings and city gates fulfill the command “you shall write them upon the door-posts of your house, and upon your gates”. In this way communal space in which the words “The Lord is One…Love God” are continually uttered are marked out and doors and gates become themselves beacons and signs of the Lord’s oneness and the love of God.

The liturgical rendering of the command to say and teach the Shema and v’ahavtah at once tames and renders humanly useful the infinite commandment.? In the confines of the community and the set apart sacred space of worship, the statement of the Lord’s oneness and the love of God can take flight in the communal chant. ? The liturgical moment allows for concentration and reflection on the words. The architecture, the garments of prayer, the ambiance of serenity and seriousness, help to keep away distractions and allow for focus. The liturgical recitation of the words brings them into the mind and heart of the worshipper. The beauty of the melodies and eros of the communal singing brings the Shekhinah , the presence of God, close and opens up a path for love of God. Wearing the Tefillin places the words on the body so that the body becomes itself a marker, a sign of the Shema and a display of the v’ahavtah : The Lord is One…You shall love God….

Having uttered the words in liturgy, have been marked by the words on her body, the worshipper now walks out through the door that is marked by the words “The Lord is One, Love God” into the space whose gates are also marked by the words. ? Walking about in this space according to the way to walk given by the halakhah becomes a matter of doing the commandment to love. The words of scripture are thus both inside and outside, the person and the world are transformed through signs of God that are everywhere.

The Lord is One; Love God…The Lord is One, Love God. The Lord is One, Love God… “And you shall eat and be satisfied.” (6:11).

What is the meaning of these words to us as Scriptural Reasoners? Are these words appropriate only to the liturgical context? Are the words of the Lord’s Oneness and Love of God appropriate to the world outside of our own religious communities? Knowing the destructive history of missionizing and holy wars, can we speak these words in the public sphere without destroying the openness and freedoms that modernity has sought to win? Isn’t it modernity’s gift of the open public square that allows for SR’s open dialogue to occur in the first place?

Can we see our own SR interpretive process as a kind of liturgical practice that transforms us and has transformative implications for our own religious and academic communities? Is there a way to bring the words of Scriptural Reasoning outside of our own tents of meeting into the larger world? And what abotu the AAR, or professional organization for the academic study of religion, what place do words of scriptural reasoning have here?


[1] Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, Scripture and Translation , Lawrence Rosenwald and Everett Fox Trans and Eds. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994) 7.

[2] Peter Ochs, Peirce , Pragmatism and the Logic of Scripture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

[3] George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984).