Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11
Within this week’s Torah reading is the great declaration that has become the hallmark of Judaism:
Hear, O Israel. The Lord is our God; the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your resources. These words which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons 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. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand and they shall be as frontlets on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deut. 6: 4-9
In the Hebrew language there are two words that English versions of the Torah translate as ‘soul’ missing a key insight that is apparent in the original text. The two words are neshama and nefesh. The neshama describes man’s spirit, that essence which God ‘breathed into Adam and he became a living soul.’ He formed man from the dust of the ground and then breathed of His own life into the man he formed. The word neshama could be rendered in English, the ‘breath of God’.
Genesis 2:7 Then the Lord, God, formed a person [Hebrew: adam] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, so that he became a living being.It is through our spirit (neshama) that we communicate with God and hear from Him.
On the other hand, the nefesh describes our ‘animal’ soul – the seat of our mind, will and emotions; that place in us where we think, feel and make decisions. In other words, the ‘soul’ comprises our thoughts and our feelings and the resultant decisions that flow from both. For example, animals have a nefesh; it’s because a dog is not just a mass of flesh that you are able to teach and train your dog to act in certain ways. His intelligence and ability to learn comes from the ‘animal’ soul.
The reason these distinctions are important is to help us properly understand what God is saying in the ‘Shema’ – Hear, O Israel! In the Hebrew, the phrase: ‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul‘, the word used is nefesh, not neshama.
So what God is commanding us is to love Him with our thoughts, feelings and decisions.
Every act of disobedience to God’s word begins in the mind as a thought. If we entertain that thought, it leads to a decision which then is played out in our behavior.
Likewise, every act of obedience to God’s word also begins in the mind as a thought which leads to a decision to conform our behavior to God’s revealed Word.
It is in this active arena of daily life – what goes on in the nefesh – that God addresses in this week’s reading. He calls us to demonstrate our love for Him in the way we think, in our decisions and in our consequent behavior.
It is written in Proverbs 23:7 For as he thinks within himself, so is he. Our thought life is therefore critically important to our relationship with God, with ourselves and with others. Your thoughts have tremendous effect on your life. They can direct you in the ways of God or totally divert you into unwholesome living. Negative and degrading thoughts you have toward yourself can paralyze you into apathy and rob you of the life God intends for you to have. Entertaining negative thoughts towards others can cause you to develop a bitter attitude that will poison your relationships.
It all starts in the mind – the thought life – in the nefesh. So when God tells us to love Him with our nefesh, it is a clear mandate urging us to be careful how we think in order that our decisions and behavior will be pleasing unto Him.
Negative or evil thoughts present themselves to everyone from time to time. That is a reality of life. However, what this commandment exhorts us to do is to recognize and reject evil thoughts before they have a chance to formulate a decision that will be harmful to our spiritual life.
‘You shall love the Lord with all your heart and with all your nefesh’… [your thoughts, your feelings and your behavior].
In Tune with Torah this week = taking stock of our thinking patterns. How often is your mind focused on God, on His Torah, on that which is positive and life-giving? Are you consciously aware when negative or evil thoughts try to take over and lead you astray? Let us ask the Lord this Shabbat to cleanse our thoughts of ungodliness and unrighteousness and grant us grace to develop a clean and pure thought life.