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Loving God with All Your Life—Nephesh

August 3, 2006

by: Lois Tverberg & Bruce Okkema

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Our understanding can be enriched by understanding the word “soul” (nephesh) better. Nephesh means “life” as well as “soul.” So the Jewish interpretation of “love the Lord with all your soul” is actually that we should love God with all of our lives—every moment throughout our lives. Loving God with all our nephesh, “life,” is the opposite of being a one hour a week Christian whose thoughts are largely filled with distractions of work, politics, hobbies, investments, sporting events, and entertainment, as many of us are today. While all those things are good, squeezing God in as an afterthought is exactly the opposite of this phrase of the Shema.

A further traditional interpretation of “with all your nephesh” is the idea that we should love God even to the point of sacrificing our lives for Him. If Jews are able, they will quote the Shema at their death to make a final commitment to their God.

In fact, there is a powerful story told to illustrate that idea. Rabbi Akiva, a greatly respected Jewish rabbi who lived in the first century AD, was tortured to death publicly by the Romans because he refused to give up teaching and studying the Scriptures. It was the time of saying the morning Shema, and during his torture, his students heard him reciting the Shema instead of crying out in pain. His students called out to him, “Teacher, even now?” The dying rabbi said, “All my life I have wondered about the phrase that says ‘Love the Lord your God with all of your soul,’ wondering if I would ever have the privilege of doing this. Now that the chance has come to me, shall I not grasp it with joy?” He repeated the first verse of the Shema, “Hear 0 Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone,” until his soul left him.

This is what Jesus was calling us to, and what He did Himself: He loved the Lord, and us, with all of His life, until He breathed His last.

More articles and books are available at www.en-gedi.org

Source: This article is reprinted from Listening to the Language of the Bible: Hearing It Through Jesus’ Ears by Lois Tverberg & Bruce Okkema. ©2004, with specific permission of use granted to Bridges for Peace by the En-Gedi Resource Center.

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