Shema - With All Your Soul
In the "Shema" prayer, the Jewish "Pledge of Allegiance," we are commanded to "serve God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 6:5). What does it mean to love God with all your soul?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
"Love God with all your soul" means be willing to die for God. This troubling idea needs explanation:
1. You don't know how precious something is until you know what price you'll pay for it.
Many years ago, a friend and I drove to the mountains in the middle of a Vermont winter. We stopped to change drivers, and my dog hopped out of the car. A passing car brushed the dog, which ran off terrified into the woods. It was midnight, and the temperature hovered near zero degrees. We looked for the dog for hours in the freezing cold. All the time, I wondered to myself, How much does this dog mean to me? How long am I willing to do this for? (P.S. We found the dog.)
The Bible invites us to understand that our relationship with God is so precious, we would be willing to pay the ultimate price.
In the year 135, the Jews rebelled against Roman domination. The Romans crushed the rebellion with terrible savagery and then tried their best to stamp out Jewish life completely. They murdered every rabbi they could find and prohibited teaching Torah on penalty of death.
The next day, Rabbi Akiva went to the marketplace and publicly taught Torah. He was arrested, sentenced, and tortured to death. As the executioner flayed Rabbi Akiva alive, he smiled and said, "All my life, I hoped for the opportunity to love God with all my soul."
The recognition that some things are worth dying for leads to the next point.
2. Being alive is not the greatest good.
Life is precious and it's wise to cling to it tenaciously. But life gains meaning from commitment to something more than life, and there is a time when not dying robs life of its meaning.
Rabbi Akiva's sacrifice was not in vain. His death, like the death of those Jews throughout history who died rather than convert, taught us the extraordinary importance of our relationship with God.
3. When you pay the ultimate price for something, it becomes more precious to you. It becomes yours.
Who has greater pride and pleasure in the State of Israel: Someone who risked his life to fight against impossible odds in 1948, or someone with the best of motives who wrote checks from the comfort and security of America?