In the upcoming week falls the 20th day of the month of Av, the yahrzeit of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the Rebbe’s father. The Rebbe’s father was a great luminary in his own right, an awesome reservoir of Talmudic and Kabbalistic knowledge. But perhaps the most unique dimension of his character was his unflinching commitment to Jewish practice and the total lack of fear with which he expressed that commitment.

One night in 1935, in the midst of the fiercest Stalinist oppression, a woman knocked on his door. “I’ve come from a distant city whose name I cannot mention. In approximately one hour, my daughter and her fiancé will also arrive. They both hold high government positions and so their coming here is fraught with danger. They have agreed to be married according to Jewish law, provided you would perform the wedding in your home.”

Rav Levi Yitzchak consented and set about gathering together a minyan for the wedding. Within half an hour, he had brought eight other men into his home. But the tenth man was lacking. On the bottom floor of the apartment house where Rav Levi Yitzchak lived a young Jewish man who had been hired by the Communist authorities to spy on the goings on in Rav Levi Yitzchak’s home. Rav Levi Yitzchak was well aware of who this person was and how he was employed. Yet when the tenth man was lacking, he sent for him.

“We need a tenth man for a minyan so that a Jewish couple can marry,” he told his neighbor.

“And so you sent for me?!” the neighbor responded in utter amazement. And yet he consented to participate in the minyan and did not inform about the ceremony.

Years later, the Rebbe would say: “From my father I learned never to be afraid.”

Parshas Eikev

This week’s Torah reading contains the second passage of the Shema, the passage beginning Vihayah im shamoa. On the surface, the passage seems unnecessary. It repeats many of the concepts stated in the first passage of the Shema. Moreover, it appears to point to a lesser degree of commitment. The first passage states: “And you shall love G‑d your L‑rd with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might,” while the second passage speaks of loving Him only “with all your heart and with all your soul.” Noticing the difference, our Sages explain that the first passage refers to a situation when the Jews fulfill G‑d’s will, while the second passage refers to a situation when they do not fulfill G‑d’s will.

Why is the second passage referred to in such a manner? After all, it speaks of the Jews loving G‑d “with all their hearts and with all their souls.”

Chassidic thought answers by explaining what “with all your might” means. Me’od, the Hebrew word translated as “might,” also means “very.” The dictionary defines “very” as “in a high degree; extremely; exceedingly.” In other words, the love of G‑d spoken about in the first passage is “of a high degree, extreme, and exceeding,” representing a commitment beyond a person’s intellectual and emotional capacities. What we can give is “all our heart” and “all our soul.” This we can control; what is beyond our hearts and our souls — “all our might” — is not within man’s conscious power.

And yet we can love G‑d “with all our might” because there is an aspect within our being that is beyond our conscious power. Every one of us possesses a soul that is an actual part of G‑d. That’s who we really are. When this inner potential surfaces, the love it inspires is extreme and exceeding.

The question then arises: If a person possesses the potential for this type of love, why should the Torah again command us — in a later passage — to love G‑d only with “all our heart” and with “all our soul”? If this higher potential is tapped, what can these lower, more limited forms of love contribute?

The resolution is that we should not only love G‑d with the aspect of our being that surpasses our personal selves, i.e., our inner spiritual core. Instead, our conscious powers should also be directed toward Him. The love for G‑d that stems from our inner, transcendent core is not our achievement. Yes, we must encourage its expression and remove the barriers standing in its way, but ultimately, it is He who implanted this love within us. Therefore bringing it out does not reflect an accomplishment on our part.

What can we do and what is the realm where our achievements can shine? To love Him “with all our heart and with all our soul” — to dedicate our conscious powers to knowing Him and emulating His ways.

Additionally, the order is significant. Loving G‑d “with all your might” expands the meaning of loving Him “with all your heart and with all your soul.” The power of our supra-rationale commitment should resonate within our minds to the extent that it reshapes the nature of the commitment that is within our conscious grasp.

Looking to the Horizon

Our Rabbis teach that the opening phrase of our Torah reading Vihaya eikev tishmayon — “It shall come to pass when you heed....” alludes to our present era, ikvasa demeshicha, the time when Mashiach’s approaching footsteps can be heard. When we observe the Torah and its mitzvos in ikvasa demeshicha, the commentaries explain, G‑d will keep the promises mentioned in the Torah and bring the Redemption.

Implied is that there is something unique about our observance that will precipitate the Redemption. The unique quality of our generation is hinted at by the word eikev which also means “heel” in Hebrew. When you want to enter an extremely cold swimming pool, which is the easiest limb to put in first? The feet.

Although the feet lack the sensitivity of the more refined limbs of the body, they respond more readily to our will. Similarly, although our generation may lack some of the spiritual refinement of the previous generation, like the heel, we are able to show a deeper commitment to fulfilling G‑d’s will.