VaEtchanan: Mitzvah 418 – Concept 4: Shema: With All Your Hearts
“With all your hearts”
Note that we are commanded to love God with our “hearts” (plural). This means to love God with both our evil inclination and our good inclination. We have to turn our evil inclination around so that we love God with our evil inclination, too. The best explanation I’ve ever heard is from my uncle, Rabbi Noah Weinberg. He says that what we want more than anything else in the innermost parts of our being—more than we want the good things, and more than we want the bad things—is to have a good relationship with God.
In a fascinating story illustrating this point, the Midrash relates that when Jacob went in to his father disguised as Esau, Isaac was suspicious, because Jacob’s voice didn’t sound like Esau. Isaac said, “The voice is Jacob, but the hands are Esau.” In order to allay his suspicions, Isaac pulled Jacob close and smelled his clothes. The Midrash says that when he did so, he smelled Yosef Meshisa, and he decided it was safe to give the blessing.
Who was Yosef Meshisa?
He was a Jew who lived at the time of the Roman destruction of the Temple. When the Romans had conquered Jerusalem, they entered the Temple in order to ransack it, but they were afraid of the power of the God of Israel. Therefore, they decided to send in a Jew to take some sacred objects out of the Holy of Holies, and if he survived, they would be emboldened to go in themselves. However, no Jew was willing to volunteer to plunder the Temple, even though the Romans promised he could keep whatever valuables he took out. Then one man stepped forward—Yosef Mashisa.
Brazenly, he went into the Holy of Holies and came out still alive carrying the golden menorah. Though he proved to the Romans that it was safe to go in without being struck down dead by God, they were taken aback by his chutzpah—he took the largest and most valuable object which they had intended to present to Caesar. “How could you do that?” they asked him, and then they told him to go back in and take something smaller. But he refused. He even refused when they offered him fifty percent of the taxes collected in Jerusalem that year. So they tortured him.
As he was being tortured, he screamed in agony and died. At that moment, a heavenly voice was heard, “Do not think Yosef Meshisa screamed in physical agony. He cried because when the Romans asked him, ‘How could you do that?’ he realized how low he had fallen. He cried because he had repented. His agony was over what he had done to himself.”
So the Midrash says that Isaac gave the blessing of the first born to Jacob, who came there to deceive him, because on Jacob he smelled Yosef Meshisa—the lowest of sinners who, in the recesses of his heart, had the deepest love of God.
This is the essence of “b’chol levavecha”, “with all your hearts.”
Even when we are going through our struggles and terrible times, even when we are driven by passions prohibited by the Torah, what we want more than anything else is a relationship with the Almighty God. Between the good drives and the destructive drives, what we want more than anything else is a connection with the Divine.