The Mitzvot of Listening and Loving
Parshat V’etchanan: Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11; Isaiah 40:1-26.
In Parshat V’etchanan, Moses’ message is clear and direct: It is imperative that the Israelites keep God’s commandments. So, we practice kashrut, keep Shabbat, refrain from stealing, etc. — difficult, but relatively clear. I usually have a pretty good sense of how I’m doing in relation to those kinds of mitzvot. Moses also goes on to recite the Shema; this part feels more curious and perplexing.
I experience the Shema as a call to slow down and actively listen to what’s happening around me. When I do that, I often notice unnecessary hardships wrought by systems of oppression that prevent people I love — family, friends, neighbors, strangers — from living lives of freedom and abundance.
In that way, the Shema hurts; but the Shema also offers tools to make our world better. I’ve learned over the years that if we are going to build a better, more habitable world for all people, we need to slow down and listen to those who are directly impacted by injustice. That listening is equally divine.
When Detroit Jews for Justice explores getting involved in a campaign, we first set out to understand the issue, and listen closely to those who seek our solidarity and partnership. In the case of the Drivers’ Licenses for All Campaign, the message was clear: Our undocumented neighbors told us they are not safe because they don’t have access to drivers’ licenses.
They are unable to move through the world securely, and attempts to meet their most basic needs risk expensive tickets, family separation, arrest and deportation.
But awareness isn’t sufficient. What do we do with what we’ve learned in the quiet moment of reciting the Shema? I’ve heard it taught that the way we actualize the Shema’s Divine unity is through love. Ve’ahavta et Adonai Eloecha, you shall love the Lord your God. How do we practice that love?
I believe that calling our legislators, signing public letters, marching in the streets and tending to our communities is love. I believe that challenging regressive policies that target our immigrant siblings is love. That kind of love is a powerful embodiment of the ve’ahavta.
As philosopher Dr. Cornel West said, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” The bold, messy, public love of building community power is the kind of love we’re practicing at Detroit Jews for Justice, one grounded in our tradition and pushing for a more just world.
Let’s love God’s world and all its creatures, b’chol levavcha with our whole heart and u’v’chol nafshecha our whole souls.
Allie Zeff is the executive director of Detroit Jews for Justice. The Drive Michigan Forward Coalition is closer than ever to winning a package of bills that would restore the right of undocumented Michiganders to obtain a drivers license. In partnership with the JCRC-AJC, DJJ will be hosting a Jewish community phonebank to urge our legislators to vote yes for this vital legislation on August 3rd at 6PM. Get more information and RSVP here.
This D'var Torah was published in the Detroit Jewish News. You can check it out here.