By Jonny Solomon, August 18, 2008

"Him shall you serve, and to Him shall you cleave" Deuteronomy 10:20
"To walk in all his ways, and to cleave to Him" Deuteronomy 11:22

On two occasions in Parashat Ekev, the Torah demands that we cleave to God, yet in neither case does it define how this may be achieved. Given that the Torah describes God as "a consuming fire" (Deuteronomy 4:24), how can we cleave to Him?

One suggestion provided by the Sefer Hachinuch, the medieval guide to the commandments, is that we should study the aggadah, the non-legal Jewish teachings such as parts of the Midrash and the Talmud: for by doing so, we will gain a greater recognition of God.

But this guidance highlights one of the greatest corruptions of Jewish education. Within the vast corpus of biblical and rabbinic literature, we find teachings that can be categorised into halachah and aggadah. Halachah deals with the law, whereas aggadah with the meaning of the law. As Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, "Halachah without aggadah is dead, aggadah without halachah is wild."

Yet in almost every yeshivah and kollel, you will not find a trace of aggadah. These sections are often skipped over or at best rushed through, given that they do not provide guidelines about how the law should be followed.

However, such an attitude does great damage. In fact, it has been suggested that were our rabbis and dayanim to concern themselves with the meaning of the law (aggadah) as much as its application (halachah), more creative solutions to contemporary problems might be reached.

Through the command to cleave to God, the Torah emphasises that we have a duty to nurture our understanding of God. We should be concerned with fulfilling both the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law.

Throughout history, we have had to contend with censors who sought to corrupt our sacred texts. Through ignoring the aggadah, we not only corrupt our own texts; we corrupt our understanding of God. It is Torah in its totality that enables us to cleave to God.

Last updated: 11:10am, August 18 2008