|by Meir Levin|
Excerpted from "WITH ALL YOUR HEART" - The Shema in Jewish worship, practice and life. Published by Targum Press, Inc. - www.targum.com.
There are many theories about love. Some claim it is but an extension of self-concern; others, that it is no more than a biological adaptation designed to assure the survival of society. The Western world has trumpeted romantic love, a state of physical and spiritual intoxication triggered by secondary characteristics of an idealized human object. Some psychologists claim that love is familiarity, a sense of identification with a person, object, or situation -- essentially a projection of oneself.
The Sages have thought deeply and profoundly about love. They addressed love between spouses and among friends, love between neighbors and colleagues, and among students and teachers. They see it above all as arising out of a religious impulse. "You shall love the Lord your God" -- make Him be loved by people, as Abraham did (Midrash - Pesikta, Devarim 32), so that because of you the Name of Heaven will come to be beloved (Talmud - Yoma 86a).
The Sages also realized that love is a composite term. The Hebrew word for love, "ahavah," carries two meanings. The first is sacrificing and giving up for the beloved, and the other is preoccupation with Him in thought and longing for His presence. The first one eventuates in self-sacrifice, if necessary; the second, in clinging to God in all of one's actions, at all times (HaAmek Davar, Deut. 6:4).
On a deeper level, complete and perfect love is possible only when it is directed toward a perfect and indivisible being. The Sefer Ha'ikarim (3:35) astutely points out that there are three kinds of love. Average people love that which gives them pleasure. Those with more maturity and experience love that which provides security. And an elevated person loves that which is good, solely because it is good.
The young are beset by urges and desires; they love things that give them pleasure. People in their thirties and forties pursue security by amassing power and control, and this is what inspires love in them. Those yet older, having tasted of the evanescence of life, find it easier to love goodness for its own sake.
A person loves God according to his stage and station life, because He is the One Who created pleasure, provides security and power, and is the Source of all good. Fear of God, too, is an elevated emotion that at its root draws from awe and wonder at the world and the Divine spirit that animates it. Judaism knows two kinds of fear -- one is termed "fear of punishment," and the other is best translated as "awe of greatness." The second type of fear arises out of love. Maimonides explains how this is so:
"How can one attain love and fear of God? When a person contemplates His great and wondrous deeds and creations, and sees in them wisdom unlike any other, he immediately loves, praises, and exalts Him. He is overcome by a great desire to know the great Name, as King David said, 'My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God.' And when he considers these matters, he immediately draws back and is frightened and recognizes that he is but a puny created being, an inferior, lowly creature who, with his limited and inferior understanding, stands before He Who is perfect. As the Sages said concerning love, "So that you may come to know Him by Whose word the universe came into being." (Fundamentals of Torah 2:22)
The kabbalists compare love and fear to two wings of a bird (Tanya 1:4). Only with two wings can a bird fly upward. Similarly, only with love and fear together can man draw close to Heaven.
Can love be commanded? The idea that feelings no less than actions are subject to regulation is foreign to modern man's way of thinking. It is, however, an accepted and integral part of the biblical mindset (see Chovos HaLevavos, Introduction). That granted, can love be commanded? After all, more than any other emotion, the ability to love varies among human beings. There are those who love easily and passionately and are able to open themselves to the risks that come with commitment. Others are more cautious by nature and need a great deal of habituation and training to attain some measure of love.
Some claim that God demands only the harnessing and directing to Him of the powers of love that He already implanted within every human being. At each stage of life, we possess the resources to do so. The young who love pleasure can love Him, because He is the source of all enjoyment. People who value security and power can love the God Who is their protector. The spiritually able relate to Him as the Source of all good with the power of good within themselves.
Others submit that love is a normal, natural result of contemplating God's special providence over us. "Through meditating in Torah, love will settle into the heart of necessity" (Sefer HaChinuch 217). In truth, the question is not whether one can command love, but who can command it. The answer is -- God can.
"Yes, of course, love cannot be commanded. No third party can, but the One can. The commandment to love can proceed only from the mouth of the lover. Only the lover can and does say, "Love me..." In His mouth the commandment to love is none other than the voice of love itself. (Franz Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption)
God, Who is above human comprehension Himself, in His might and glory, asks for love, for He loves us first. No, love is not being demanded -- it is being offered, and the only possible response is to return it.