By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
The Shema, the most fundamental and sacred statement of Jewish faith and theology, is recited daily – during both morning and evening worship. At each recitation, the Shema itself is preceded by an extended blessing celebrating God’s love for the Jewish People. During Shacharit (morning) prayers, that introductory blessing begins, “Ahavah Rabbah…” – “You have loved us with great love….” In the evening, the parallel passage opens with “Ahavat Olam…” – “With everlasting (or ‘eternal’) love have You loved Your people….”
The artfully nuanced change in wording illustrates the similarity between loving human relationships and the love between God and the People Israel. At the beginning of an amorous relationship (in the “morning” of our romantic involvement) we experience “great love” – passion and ardor marked by drive, strength, intensity.
As we spend time together – years, a lifetime (in the later hours, the “evening” of our relationship) – passion and ardor mature into an unshakeable commitment… an “everlasting” or “eternal” love.
The growth and quality of the mutual love celebrated by the daily recitation of the Shema is articulated by French novelist Honoré de Balzac:
“True love is eternal, infinite, and always like itself. It is equal and pure, without violent demonstrations: it is seen with white hairs and is always young in the heart.”
There is no greater blessing.
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)