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  • Writer's pictureRuth Schapira

Can we be commanded to love?



Ahavah ~ Love


From a young age, we are taught to recite the Shema, saying "And you shall love God, your God..." But can we be commanded to love? In Deuteronomy (Devarim / 6:5) we are told "And love HaShem, your God, with all your heart, and with your entire being and with all your resources" [this is my own translation of the Hebrew, which usually reads as: "You shall love your Lord, your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might] which is known by so many of us as the third line of the Shema.

The "And love" part might, seems like a command. But if that's so, how can we make sense out of being commanded to love? After all, in the Aseret HaDibrot / The Ten Sayings (commonly mistranslated as the Ten Commandments) we are not even commanded to love our parents, but to honor them!

How can we love what seems to be an abstraction? Sure, we might feel God's presence, sense that there is something beyond the tangible and concrete, and yes, we might even have a surer sense of God than other things in our lives...but still, what we might feel, and even know intuitively, seems to exist solely in our minds and hearts.

Plus, it's hard enough to feel a more mature sense of the Divine while trying to rid ourselves of a "Hebrew School" image of God as a "man sitting on a throne in heaven" (and that's if you attended Hebrew School, those who come to Judaism from other faith traditions have an even harder time getting away from God as a physical representation). But let's look a little deeper into what God is asking of us. Rambam, in the Mishneh Torah (commentary on the Torah, Yesodei HaTorah, chapter 2) says: "What is the path [to attain] love and awe of God? When a person meditates upon [hitbonen] God’s wondrous and great deeds and creations and appreciates His infinite wisdom that surpasses all comparison, one will immediately love, praise, and glorify [God], yearning with tremendous desire to know [God's] great name…."

Rambam seems to say that the love that we're being asked to give doesn't come naturally. The love we hope to attain is part of an eco-system of other behaviors. We have to work at it, just as in any relationship.

If we're expecting to feel something, we have to do something.

And we have to work on it in steps---very, very small steps. This involves concentration and meditation about all that surrounds us. We need to have a sense of gratitude and appreciation, realizing that even that cannot approximate the wondrous nature of the universe.

For example, if we just examined only the first requirement of this love, that we should love with "all our heart" it might mean doing things that change the way we feel. So, let’s begin with practicing gratitude. This can be as simple as writing down a list of 10 things that you find wondrous in the world. But wait, this is way different than a "Gratitude List" that has made its way around the spiritually attuned. What you will write are not things that you are personally grateful for, like your health, your family, your home...but for that which is all around you, every day and night, that you might take for granted.

Like the fact that plants instinctively reach for the sun, or that the moon changes over a period of a month, in predictable phases, while the sun has an everlasting shine. Or even that these changes are what you count on every single waking day. Or that flowers look beautiful and wondrous, while snakes look, well, kind of ugly and menacing. Like that.

Try just this practice and then, see if you begin to open your heart to Ahavat HaShem, Love of God. And you won’t even need to be commanded. It will just flow into you and flow out of you as Love.

And please, tell me how it goes for you.

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