Deuteronomy 6:6 states:
These matters that I command you today shall be upon your heart
The word “today” appears to add no value to the plain meaning of the verse. What would have been missing from the verse had it instead read as follows: These matters that I command you shall be upon your heart? What is added by the word “today”?
One might suggest that it is necessary to identify exactly which matters are under discussion: the ones commanded “today.” The problem with this answer is that the verse already includes the word “these.” In other words, we know that the “matters” that are being commanded that must be “upon your heart” are those matters that are being spoken of in this passage. So again we ask, what is added by the word “today”?
An Ancient Rabbinic Explanation
The Jewish sages from the time of the Second Temple, over 2000 years ago, studied the Bible very carefully. They investigated the meaning of every single word, searching for any lessons that may lie beneath the simple reading. Here is their comment on this verse:
That I command you today: They shall not be in your eyes like an ancient decree that a person is not likely to respect. Rather, they shall be like a new decree that everyone eagerly fulfills. – Sifre, Deuteronomy 6:6
The rabbis noticed that the word “today” in our verse was superfluous. They explained that the message of this word is that we must look upon the word of God every single day as though it was just commanded to us. This is a very important lesson which has great relevance for our times.
Many people look at the Bible as archaic and out of date. They read the commandments and say, “That may have made sense 3,000 years ago when Moses taught them, but not today.” It is to this sentiment that our verse is responding. The commandments in the Bible are never “old.” They are always relevant and applicable to the times in which we live. God gave the law, not only to a group of Israelites over 3,000 years ago but to each and every one of us. Today.
Keep the Passion Alive
There is another nuance in this teaching from the sages. Notice that the verse does not refer to the performance of the commandments. It instructs us to place the commandments upon our hearts. The performance of the commandments is a different matter.
It can be difficult to remain passionate about things that we have done all our lives and continue to do on a regular basis. It is easier to get excited about something that is new and unusual. Following the commandments of God throughout our lives can become repetitive. As humans, we can lose that sense of excitement when we follow God’s commandments repeatedly. The word “today” in this verse teaches us that we must actively work to keep the passion and “newness” of God’s commandments alive within our hearts. We must be excited by them and not allow ourselves to complacently slip into rote lip service-type behavior. Every day they must be new again.
We must put in the effort to maintain our passion for doing the will of God. We must never look at His commandments as out of date or irrelevant to our time and our lives. Every day we must renew our commitment to Him and to His word.
This article was taken from Rabbi Pesach Wolicki’s new book, Verses for Zion. Verses for Zion offers a profound exploration of devotional Bible teachings, intricately woven around the land, people, and God of Israel. Each page is a journey through history and faith, illuminating biblical narratives with insightful interpretations and spiritual wisdom. Click here to order your copy of Verses for Zion now.
Rabbi Pesach Wolicki serves as Executive Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, and he is cohost of the Shoulder to Shoulder podcast