In our daily Krias Shema, we say, “V’ahvata es Hashem Elokecha – And you should love Hashem Your Go-d.” Both the Rokei’ach and the Baal HaTurim reveal that the word v’ahavta is an anagram of ha’Avos, our Patriarchs, referring to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Then we follow up this statement of our love of Hashem with, “B’chol levovecha – With all your heart,” like Avraham, of whom it is written, “And You found his heart trustworthy before You.”
Then we say, “B’chol nafshecha – With all of our life,” like Yitzchak, who offered his life at the akeidah. Finally, we say “B’chol meodecha – With all of your money,” like Yaakov, who declared, “All that You give me I will surely tithe to You.”
With this explanation, we can understand why b’chol meodecha follows after b’chol nafshecha, for at first glance it would seem to be anticlimactic that we pledge our money after we pledge our very life. According to the Baal HaTurim and the Rokei’ach, the order is chronological in nature.
Rashi answers this difficulty in another way. He explains that there are people who love their money more than their life. For example, if someone holds them up, threatening, “Your money or your life,” they’ll attempt to make a run for it! It is because of such people, explains Rashi, that it says b’chol meodecha after b’chol nafshecha.
I always found this explanation very puzzling, for I would assume that a person of the mindset which Rashi describes must certainly be greatly in the minority. Most sensible people love their lives more than their money. So, shouldn’t the order of Krias Shema follow the majority of humanity? Wouldn’t it be more proper to say “With all your money – and even with your life?”
I think the true understanding of Rashi is as follows: The word meodecha in reality does not mean money. Rather, the word meod means ‘very much,’ as in the phrase tov me’od, it is very good. Thus, when we say that we are loving Hashem b’chol meodecha, we mean with all that is the very most dear to us. Rashi gives the example that for some people, money is the most dear to them. But that is only one example. Many a mother will shield her child from danger with her own body because her child is dearer to her than her own life. A loving spouse will shield their mate from danger. And finally, here’s another possible meaning of b’chol meodecha: With one’s mind: for most people would rather die than to live like a vegetable.
So the definition of this climactic declaration of love for Hashem varies from person to person.
I discovered another example of what b’chol meodecha can entail from the following Chassidic gem: Rav Nochum of Chernobyl, zt”l, used to travel from one small town to another to spread the holy words of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezeritch. He came to one town and found that they did not have a mikvah. When he asked the townspeople how such a thing was possible, they explained that they couldn’t afford to build one. Rav Nochum did some homework and learned that there was one wealthy man living in the town. He approached him with the proposition to perform the great mitzvah of building the mikvah. The man responded with a counter-proposal. He was ready, he said, to both fund the building of a state-of-the-art mikvah and take on its long-term expenses with the following condition. When the Rebbe inquired as to the condition, astonishingly, the man asked in exchange for the Rebbe’s Olam Haba, his portion in the Afterlife. Rav Nochum acquiesced and the contract was drawn up.
When the students of Rav Nochum asked him in consternation how he could agree to such a thing, he answered that it says that one should serve Hashem b’chol meodecha. What, he concluded, could be more precious to me than my portion in the Afterlife, and now I get a chance to show my love for Hashem even with that!
In the zechus of dedicating ourselves wholeheartedly to Hashem, may he shower us with good health, happiness, and everything wonderful!