Immediately following its opening sentences, the Shema contains the following powerful verse: “And you shall love the L-rd, your G-d, with all your heart, all your soul, and all your resources” (Deuteronomy 6:5). This raises an obvious question: Can one be commanded to love? Love is the most sublime of human emotions, originating from the depths of ones heart & soul; is it possible to be commanded to love?
An additional question can be asked- what is the connection between the command to love G-d & the following verses which speak of having words of Torah “on our hearts” & to speak of them constantly, “when we arise & when we retire,” “at home & on the road?” Furthermore, would it not be a more correct formulation to say that we should have words of Torah “on our minds?”
The great Jewish scholar & philosopher Maimonides (1135-1204) addresses our questions. In his immortal legal code he writes as follows: What is the way to attain love… of G-d? When one contemplates His great and wondrous… creations, and sees in them His unequaled and infinite wisdom, he immediately loves and praises and exalts Him… (Laws of the Foundations of Torah 2: 2, see also Guide 3:28)
In other words, according to Maimonides we are commanded to do acts that bring us to love G-d — such as contemplating the brilliance of the natural world. Surely each & every one us has had a moment, maybe when staring at the stars on clear summer’s night, when we feel deep inside that there is something great & beautiful in the world. At such moments our very soul proclaims “How great are your works, G-d, you make them all with wisdom ” (Psalms 104).
Nevertheless, the question remains. Do we not all know of brilliant scientists who spend their lives analyzing the natural world & come to the very opposite conclusion — that the world is made up of randomness, the survival of the fittest?
For this too Maimonides has a response. In his work “The Book of Comandments”(no. 3) we are told that to fulfill the commandment to love G-d we are to “comprehend His Mitzvot” through Torah study. His proof text are the words of the Shema “And these words which I command you this day shall be in your heart” which immediately follow “You shall love the L -rd your G-d. ”
So which is it? Do we come to love G-d through contemplating His creations or contemplating His Torah? A parable: A cultured visitor to a famous art museum is shown a series of beautiful paintings but reacts to each with disdain, claiming to see only messy canvases. Finally, a member of his entourage hits upon the idea of cleaning the fellow’s eyeglasses.
Before one can perceive G-d’s grandeur in the astounding magnificence of His creation we first need the wisdom of the Torah to guide & teach us. Once we understand that there is a purpose & meaning to the world we live in, a right and a wrong, only then when we approach the study of nature will we see G-d’ fingerprints all over. Prior to that our glasses remain foggy. The heavens indeed proclaim the glory of G-d, but only when one has the Torah of G-d that restores the soul, makes the simple wise, and enlightens our eyes (Psalm 19. See Rabbi Avi Shafran, The Jewish Observer, December 2005, p. 40-41)
What is the proper kind of love? – when one loves G-d with very powerful, great, and overflowing love… he finds himself constantly thinking about it as if he were love-sick such that his mind is never distracted… whether sitting or standing… (Maimonides Lawsof Repentance 10:3).
So let us say Shema, study Torah, & bring it from our intellect to our hearts so that we can see the beauty of the world and the evidence of G-d all around us. Then we can actually mean it when we say “G-D, I love you” — and thereby merit feeling G-d’s everlasting love to us in return.
Rabbi Yitzchok Oratz is the Rabbi and Director of the Monmouth Torah Links community. Shortly after receiving his semicha (rabbinic ordination) from Bais Medrash Govoha, the famed Lakewood Yeshiva, Rabbi Oratz, along with his wife Toby and family, moved to Marlboro, NJ where they co-founded the MTL community in 2001. Aside for his “Devar on the Par” that he writes for MTL, his writings have also been published on Aish, Times of Israel, Seforim Blog, Hakira, and in various Rabbinic journals. Rabbi Oratz looks forward to continuing teaching Torah in a way that is timely and timeless, and sharing meaningful Jewish experiences with the amazing MTL community.