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Love is...

By: Mrs. Neima Novetsky

There is a short piece circling around the internet entitled "A Child's Definition of Love."  Several first-graders were asked to define the term.  One said, "Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs." Another suggested, "Love is what makes you smile when you're tired."  A third girl said, "During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn't scared anymore."

The children surveyed, of course, are quite right.  Love is sharing, reassurance, and doing for another. Love makes you smile. But the answers also highlight how difficult it is to articulate what exactly love is, for love might mean something different to every person. Love is hard to define - all the more so when speaking of love of Hashem.

In our parashah we read the opening section of the Shema, in which we are commanded to love God.  How, though, does one define this mitzvah? Is loving Hashem similar to loving a human being? But, how can you command someone to feel a certain way?

The Rambam answers that Ahavat Hashem is indeed an emotion. He compares it to the emotion felt between husband and wife - a strong yearning and constant thinking of the other. According to Rambam, this love is attained via the intellectual process of looking into Hashem's creation and mizvot. The more one learns about Hashem and His ways, and the more one comes to know Hashem, the greater the love will be.  Rambam is not bothered by the concept of commanding an emotion since he believes that as long as one puts in the effort to seek and know Hashem (which anyone can do), the emotion of love will automatically follow.

R. Moshe of Coucy (the Semag) sets up a different model of love. According to him, we are not being commanded to feel an emotion but rather to do an action.  We are being told to fulfill the commandments and serve Hashem out of "love" rather than out of fear or the desire to receive a reward. He suggests that this is in effect equivalent to (or, perhaps, stems from) feeling hakarat hatov, gratitude, towards Hashem. If we are able to recognize all the good we receive from Hashem, we will be able to fulfill the mizvah of Ahavat Hashem.  

A third model is presented by Shadal. He compares the commandment to similar ones such as loving the stranger and suggests that it is an all-inclusive mitzvah which does not require feeling something towards the other, but rather doing Hashem's will and keeping all his commandments. One might suggest that the relationship being described is similar to that between allies, more like loyalty than love. Hashem made a covenant with us and it is our duty to keep the conditions laid forth.

It is of course possible that loving Hashem includes all the above – an emotional attachment and longing, loyalty and fulfillment of mitzvot, and finally, a recognition of all that we receive from Hashem.  

Shabbat shalom!





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