The Path to Love – Parashat Vaetchanan
In this week’s parasha, Vaetchanan, Moshe continues with his final words before Am Yisrael. The tells the story of receiving the Torah, proclaims the Ten Commandments, and teaches them the chapter of “Shma Yisrael”, Hear O Israel, which is written in teffilin and mezuzot, and had been recited by Am Yisrael daily – morning and night, for thousands of year.
In the second pasuk, verse, in the pararsha we are commanded to love God: “And you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart…” (Dvarim 6:5). This verse raises a complicated question: is it possible to command someone to love someone else? Love is a feeling, so can anything control the way we feel?
The great thinker and rabbinical authority, the Rambam (Maimonides – Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon who lived and worked approximately 850 years ago), answered this query in two different places with two different responses. In his book, “Mishna Torah” which was meant to summarize all the halachot, the Jewish laws, in the Torah, the Rambam writes: “What is the path to love Him and fear Him? When a man examines His amazingly huge deeds and creations and discerns His invaluable and infinite wisdom – he immediately loves, praises, glorifies, and has a great desire to know Him, as David said: “My soul is thirsty for You, the living God.” (Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 2:2)
Following these words, the Rambam wrote chapters dealing with physics and metaphysics. At the end of these chapters, he wrote that when a man looks at these things and recognizes all creations down to the species, and sees the deep wisdom of the Creator of all creatures, he adds love to the Creator of the Universe and his soul is thirsty and his body yearns to love the Blessed be He.
In “Sefer Hamitzvot” in which the Rambam counts and explains all the commandments in the Torah, the Rambam writes about a different path to loving God: The 3rd mitzvah is that we are commanded to love God (exalted be He), i.e., to meditate upon and closely examine His mitzvos, His commandments, and His works, in order to understand Him: and through this understanding to achieve a feeling of ecstasy. This is the goal of the commandment to love God. (Sefer Hamitzvot, positive commandments 3)
Anyone who examines this sees that the two paths the Rambam writes about are actually one real path. The only possibility that can lead us to loving someone is thinking and examining virtues again and again. When we are speaking of the Creator, we have two ways of examining and comprehending a few of His virtues, as they are interpreted in our own eyes. One way is to look at the great book of wisdom that we were given, the Torah, and another way is to examine the amazing deeds of the Creator: heaven and earth, the galaxies and germ, the body and atoms and so much more…
Once we comprehend that with a bit of effort we can indeed control our emotions, we have an amazing path to making out life sweeter at many of its varied intersections. When we want to love our partner, our neighbor, or our colleague – we just have to gently focus ourselves on his virtues and the many good things he does for us, and we should think about those a few times a day. When we that we are experiencing life with anger and emotional restlessness, we begin to notice the infinite number of good things in our lives and start to think of them over and over again. In this way, we can live our lives with happiness, serenity, and love: for the Creator of the Universe, for the world in which we live and for every man and woman around us.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbit of the Western Wall and Holy Sites