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07/31/2020 11:51:21 AM


Rabbi Barry Gelman

Does God Have A Love Language?

07/31/2020 09:23:44 AM

Rabbi Barry Gelman

Does the Torah have a Love Language?

וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ׃

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Of course, loving God sounds great. The problem is that it is not clear from the Torah how we are supposed to fulfill this Mitzvah. When it comes to other Mitzvot like Shabbat, Kashrut and the Chagim, the Torah tells us what we are supposed to do and not do in order to be in compliance. What are we to make of the vague commandment to love God?

Of course, one can suggest that the Torah is leaving it vague on purpose to teach us that it is up to us. While this idea may be appealing, it is not consistent with the way Judaism works. We rely on our tradition to direct us on how to serve God.

Or put this way: “A woman once told me that she did not understand the significance of commitment to Halakha. She maintained that no matter what she did, God would love her. I replied that I too believed that God’s love to us was unconditional. The real question, I said, was not the extent of His love for us, but of our love for Him.” (Rabbi Yaakov Nagen. Be, Become, Bless. Pg. 284). Commitment and responsibility are the foundations of love. 

So, besides fulfilling the Mitzvot as an expression of our love for God, how else can this Mitzvah be understood?

One approach is to think about loving God the way we think about loving people. In order to love someone, you need to know them. If so, then in order to love God, you need to know God. How does one know God? By studying His works - Torah and Nature. 
The Sefer HaChinuch, following in the footsteps of Maimonides puts it this way. 

שנצטוינו לאהב את המקום ברוך הוא, שנאמר (דברים ו ה) ואהבת את יי אלהיך. וענין המצוה שנחשב ונתבונן בפקודיו ופעלותיו עד שנשיגהו כפי יכלתנו ונתענג בהשגחתו בתכלית הענג, וזאת היא האהבה המיחדת

The commandment of loving God: That we were commanded to love the Omnipresent, blessed be He ,as it is stated (Deuteronomy 6:5), "And you shall love the Lord, your God." And the content of this commandment is that we should think about and contemplate His commands and His actions to the point that we comprehend Him according to our ability and that we delight in His providence with complete delight. And this is [this] special love.

According to this approach, love of God amounts to a sense of spiritual appreciation for all that God has done.  We can attain such a state by studying God’s creations. 
This approach is implicit in the verses in the Torah.  First the Torah says :

 וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ׃

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Then, the Torah explains how:

 וְהָי֞וּ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אָנֹכִ֧י מְצַוְּךָ֛ הַיּ֖וֹם עַל־לְבָבֶֽךָ

Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day.
In the words of Maimonides: “that through this [meditation about His commandments] you will understand the nature of 'the One Who spoke, and thereby brought the world into being.' "
Another beautiful approach to loving God is provided by the Talmud in Massechet Yoma (86a). 

אביי אמר כדתניא (דברים ו, ה) ואהבת את ה' אלהיך שיהא שם שמים מתאהב על ידך

Abaye said: As it was taught in a baraita that it is stated: “And you shall love the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 6:5), which means that you shall make the name of Heaven beloved.

According to this approach, loving God means conducting oneself in such a way that others are inspired to praise God and the Torah, as the Talmud continues:

מה הבריות אומרות עליו אשרי אביו שלמדו תורה אשרי רבו שלמדו תורה אוי להם לבריות שלא למדו תורה פלוני שלמדו תורה ראו כמה נאים דרכיו כמה מתוקנים מעשיו עליו הכתוב אומר (ישעיהו מט, ג) ויאמר לי עבדי אתה ישראל אשר בך אתפאר 

What do people say about such a person? Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah, fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah, woe to the people who have not studied Torah. So-and-so, who taught him Torah, see how pleasant are his ways, how proper are his deeds. The verse states about him and others like him: “You are My servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Isaiah 49:3).

Rambam is helpful here as well in laying out the reasoning of this approach.
“This is because when you love a person, for example, you praise him and call out to others to draw close to him. So too, if you truly love God — through your understanding and realization of His true existence — you will certainly spread this true knowledge that you know to the ignorant and the foolish.”

Interestingly, the focus on this version of loving God is on the result one’s actions have on others! 

Finally, the Mitzvah to love God is introduced by the great statement of faith:

שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה ׀ אֶחָֽד׃

Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.
Not only does this phrase contain the essence of Judaism, it also helps us appreciate the Mitzvah of loving God. 

We have seen that we can achieve that love by paying attention to God's works. The obligation to Listen  - Sh’Ma - offers a new dimension of the commandment to love God. 
The verses bear this out. The obligation to listen - Sh’ma Yisrael - is immediately followed by the obligation to love God - Ve’Ahavta. As Rabbi Yaakov Nagen puts it: By listening we arrive at love.

But, we can take this one step further. Not only is listening a way to achieve love, it is the best expression of love. We often think that giving is the best way to illustrate our love. The truth is, listening is an even more powerful mode of loving. Rabbi Nagen puts it well again when he says: “When we love someone, we care about what they have to say, and thus can - and want to - listen to them.”

We express love of God by listening - deeply listening to what He is saying. 
The importance of listening to God can and should be extended to all of our relationships.

I am a big fan of Gary Chapman’s, The 5 Love Languages. It is a great book that teaches us that people feel loved differently. However, I think he needs to add a sixth love language - a sixth way that people feel loved - being listened to. 

Listening is hard, maybe that’s why the Torah expressly tells us - Sh’ma Yisrael.

“Experts say we’re naturally just not good at listening for a whole range of reasons. We have a tendency to swap stories, so we interrupt. We’re uncomfortable with emotions, so we avoid focusing too closely on someone else’s. We’d rather talk about ourselves, so we rush the talker along.”

Listening requires effort and a decision to be fully present for our loved ones, friends and colleagues.

Think of the different ways you can listen to music. You can put it on in the background while you’re doing something else. Or you can put on your headphones, give it your undivided attention and really notice how it affects you. That is active listening.

Nowadays when in person interactions are limited, we may think that the power of listening is diminishe. No so as research suggests that a listener can be just as helpful on the phone as in person.

We are required to love God. We do that by listening to what He asks of us, observing the Mitzvot and inspiring others, through our actions, to love God. Listening is a path to love.
We have also learned that listening is an expression of love. Listening is hard, but so important. Listening validates people, makes them feel heard and valued. Listening is what we do to make sure the Tzelem Elokim   - the Divine Image - in each person is fully expressed. 

May we be blessed with a Shabbat (and days beyond) of listening to God and our loved ones. 

Shabbat Shalom.

Tue, May 18 2021 7 Sivan 5781