"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." (Deut. 6:5)
What does it mean to love God "bechol me'odecha", "with all your might"? The Talmud offers two explanations for this phrase.
Thankfulness Even in Misfortune
The first explanation is that, in every situation (midah) that God places us, we should sincerely thank (modeh) Him. From here we learn that one should recite a blessing over bad news as well as good news. When hearing about death, financial loss, or other tragedies, we need to acknowledge that God is the true Judge.
How is it possible to thank God for tragedy? And why is this a form of loving God?
A self-centered individual will look at all circumstances only in the context of his own narrow interests. From this viewpoint, good and bad are measured purely by selfish criteria.
However, the individual who can internalize the dictates of his intellect, and who loves that which his mind tells him to love, will have a drastically different outlook on good and bad. Happiness and pleasure are not limited to how events affect him or his immediate surroundings. As a result of his love of the Infinite, he judges every situation, every circumstance, in terms of the klal — the community, the nation, the universe, all of creation, and beyond.
In the overall picture, evil does not exist. What appears to be evil and bad in a narrow outlook, will ultimately result in greater good in the broader view. If we live our lives in accordance with this insight, we will understand that while a certain situation may be difficult on a personal level, our private suffering enables positive repercussions for the klal.
With All Our Possessions
The Sages gave a second explanation for "all your might": to love God with all of your money. We should serve God with all of our possessions.
How does this relate to the first explanation, that we should express gratitude to God in all circumstances of life?
An individual who chooses to reject all material possessions, spurning all wealth and comfort in pursuit of an ascetic lifestyle, is living an extremely limited existence. He is incapable of truly appreciating the value of life. What is life worth when it is restricted to poverty and hardship? We can only attain a full measure of love — for life, for the universe, and for God — when we seek to live life to its fullest, albeit in accordance with God's will.
Life is expanded and enriched through material possessions. Money and possessions are called meod ("very"), as they serve to intensify the living experience. The wise individual, living a full, intense life, is deeply aware of the importance of life. He recognizes the greatness of the klal, and is willing to sacrifice his life out of love for God. The richness of his life strengthens his dedication to truth and justice, according to what benefits the klal. His soul is full of emotion and feeling, and he can truly feel gratitude for all circumstances of life, whether or not they are in his own personal best interest.
Rabbi Chanan Morrison of Mitzpeh Yericho runs ravkooktorah.org, a website dedicated to presenting the Torah commentary of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, to the English-speaking community.
Gold from the Land of Israel, pp. 301-302. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 328)