When Loving God Is Not Easy

Harold Sala

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:18 

Facing the Knesset, or the Israeli Parliament, in Jerusalem is a beautiful menorah, a gift from Britain to Israel. It was created by the famed sculptor Benno Elkan and is covered with images, telling the story of Israel’s long and colorful history. A menorah, which is a seven-branched candelabrum, is significant, representing the fullness of God. 

One of the seven branches of the Menorah shows a rabbi and a pupil standing on one foot before him. The rabbi was Hillel, one of the greatest in Jewish history. But what’s the story behind the student standing on one foot? According to tradition, which sculptor Elkan so beautifully illustrated, the unnamed student had challenged his teaching, asking if he could teach him the law while he stood on one foot. And Rabbi Hillel replied, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,” quoting Deuteronomy 6:5

Not only did the people of Moses’ day struggle with that one, we struggle with it today if we are honest in admitting how many things push God towards the sidelines in our lives. 

The Jews also believed that loving your neighbor was the second great commandment upon which the law rested. When Jesus was challenged by the question, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” he answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He then added, “This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” explaining, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). 

For a moment, ponder what Jesus is saying. He is asserting that everything found in the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, along with all of the writings of the prophets, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the twelve called minor prophets–all of them put together can be summed up in two powerful truths: loving God with all your heart, and loving your neighbor as yourself. 

While loving God this way is not easy, it is less offensive than the neighbor (not mine, of course!) who lives next door to you who put his garbage in your trash can, who throws away your mail when it is delivered to his box or house, who plays loud music when you want to sleep, who lets his dog bark keeping you awake, and who–well let’s face it–is not very lovable. 

You won’t have to read much beyond the front page of today’s news to understand that Israel today is having a hard time both loving God, as Hillel said was important, and certainly loving their neighbors. 

There is one thing for sure: You will never love your neighbor as yourself until you have first learned to love God with all of your heart. Paul explained that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by His Spirit who is given to us (Romans 5:5). 

So how do we learn to love God? First by finding out who He is. You must know Him before you will ever love Him, and once you have come to know Him and His great love and compassion for you, your heart will cry out, “Yes, Lord, I do love you and want to serve you.” Then His great love will flow through you reaching out to your husband or wife, your neighbor whom you neither know nor like, and to those who work with you. 

Loving God is the key to the whole issue. May God help us to know Him and to love Him so that we can love our neighbor. No, history didn’t tell us how the student standing on one foot responded when Hillel said the whole thing is to love God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself. I’m afraid that he didn’t learn his lesson.

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