By R’ Mordechai Young
Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski tells a story of a man eating fish and saying he loves fish. Someone told the man, “You don’t love fish. If you did, you would not have taken the fish out of the water, killed it, and boiled it. No, you don’t love fish. You love yourself. You love the way fish tastes, so you did all that to the fish.”
The Shema is contained in this week’s parashah. In Shema, it mentions the commandment to love Hashem. The Ba’al HaTanya, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, asked: How can we be commanded to love Hashem? Isn’t that an emotion? Either we love Him or we don’t! He answers that we have the love of Hashem embedded in our neshamah. We have to remove any barriers infringing on that love.
Rabbi Aryeh Fishel Stone, who teaches in Sh’or Yoshuv, told me that in Mesillas Yesharim, perek 19, it states that our love for Hashem should not be dependent on external factors, such as success. Of course, for all the good things one receives, one should be thankful to Hashem. However, one’s love for Hashem should not depend on these things.
What should be the nature of one’s love for Hashem? It should be like that of a child to a parent. That love is natural, like the B’aal HaTanya stated above. In the ArtScroll Jaffa edition explanation of Mesillas Yesharim (pg. 383) it explains that it is unnecessary to generate a love for Hashem within oneself. One just needs to bring forth that love. How does a person do this? By reflecting constantly that Hashem is our Father, the Source of all life. He can actualize that unconditional love and it becomes natural within him. This is awesome — such a lofty mitzvah is available for all of us to do.
In the Rambam’s Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah (perek 2:2), he asks: What is the path to loving Hashem? He answers that when a person reflects on the world, on Hashem’s actions and wonderful creations and all their amazing details, he will see Hashem’s unlimited wisdom and immediately he will have love for Hashem. A feeling is generated, the sense of the unbelievable things Hashem created — that is ahavas Hashem. He will praise and glorify Hashem; he will have a great desire to know Hashem. In Sefer HaMitzvos, explaining all the mitzvot, the Rambam, (Mitzvah 3) states that loving Hashem is fulfilled by reflecting on the mitzvot of Hashem — i.e., learning Torah.
The Rambam goes on to teach us a fascinating idea. Part of the mitzvah of loving Hashem is wanting others to serve and believe in Hashem. Just like when a person has a friend he loves, he wants the person to be beloved by others as well. He will talk highly of his friend in lavish praises. The prime example of this is Avraham Avinu. He sought out people to teach them about Hashem. His greatness was also in how he understood people and first gave them food and drink, getting them to be comfortable and happy. Only then did he teach them about Hashem. We should reach a high level when we want others to believe in Hashem.
Rav Dessler asked: Do we give to those we love or do we love those to whom we give? He answered that we love those to whom we give. The Hebrew word for love is “ahavah.” The root of the word is “hav,” which means “to give.” People can deepen their love for each other by giving to each other. We can apply this concept to our love of Hashem, strengthening our love for Hashem by using our time and resources to serve Him.
In Pirkei Avos (perek 3:9), Rabbi Yaakov taught: If a person is traveling and learning, but stops his learning to exclaim how nice a tree is, or how nice a plowed furrow is, it’s as if he bears guilt on his soul. Why is he guilty if, according to the Rambam, seeing the beauty in the world can lead to loving Hashem? Rabbi Nosson Muller, in his sefer From Generation to Generation on Pirkei Avos, cites an explanation to this Mishnah that answers this question. Rabbi Mordechai Gifter explains that one who is thinking in learning but, upon passing a beautiful tree, stops learning — meaning, he doesn’t take advantage of this moment to notice the beauty of the world Hashem created and to reflect on the greatness of Hashem — he bears guilt. He is “mischayeiv b’nafsho,” because life is all about finding the greatness of Hashem, whether by learning Torah, doing mitzvos, or reflecting on the world’s beauty.
Let us all try to deepen our love of Hashem through Torah and mitzvos and reflecting on the wonders of Hashem’s creations. This is accessible to all!
Rabbi Young lives in the Five Towns with his wife and children. He teaches Torah and is available as a tutor/remedial rebbe. He can be reached for comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.