Have you ever fallen in love?
You know, the head-over-heels, sweaty palms, heart pounding, can-think-of-nothing-else kind of love?
If you have, it is sadly somewhat likely that you also have fallen out of love. While there are wonderful couples who manage to keep the love going strong for the long term, the fifty-plus-percent divorce rate is ample evidence that many couples who start out crazy about each other end up driving each other crazy.
Maybe that’s why they call it “falling” in love.
This week’s Torah portion includes the famous chapter of the “Shema,” in which we are commanded to love G-d with all our heart and soul. (Deuteronomy 6:5) Aside from the innate difficulty in loving a being that we cannot see or feel, the entire notion of being commanded to feel something seems somewhat odd. After all, love is the most sublime of human emotions, originating in the depths of one’s heart and soul; can one really be commanded to love?
The great Jewish philosopher and legal expert Maimonides (1135 – 1204) addressed this point. To him, the mitzvah (commandment) to love G-d means doing what it takes to attain this love. In his words:
“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)
By contemplating the brilliance of the natural world, Maimonides tells us we will inevitably come to fall in love with our Creator.
Surely each and every one of us has had such an experience. In a quiet moment, maybe when staring at the stars on a clear summer’s night, we feel deep inside that there is something great and 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)
But much like falling in love, this feeling rarely lasts.
It seems to me that it is for this reason that later in the Shema we are told of our obligation to speak words Torah constantly, “when we arise and when we retire,” “at home and on the road,” to put mezuzahs on our doorposts, and tefillin on our hand, opposite our hearts and our heads.
A beautiful sunset fills us with awe and inspiration, but it is the study of Torah that reminds us continuously that the world has meaning and a purpose, and teaches us what to do with that inspiration.
In a magnificent waterfall we see G-d’s strength and might; by putting on tefillin we thank G-d for the strength of our arms, and pledge to dedicate our might to make the world a better place. Enjoying the great outdoors may give us an appreciation of the awesome home G-d made for the wildlife; affixing a mezuzahto the doorpost allows us to focus on the gift of our homes.
Falling in love may be a great way to start a relationship, but it is day-to-day dedication that makes it last. Admiring the astounding magnificence of G-d’s creation is a great source of inspiration; an ongoing dedication to Torah and mitzvos, however, is what makes it last. The heavens indeed proclaim the glory of G-d, but it is the Torah of G-d that restores the soul – one without the other is incomplete (see Psalms chapter 19 and Maimonides’ The Book of Commandments, # 3).
Our love of G-d is not one-sided. “As water reflects a face, so too is the heart of one to another” (see Proverbs 27:19). The more effort we exert to be able to truly say “G-D, I LOVE YOU” – the more we will merit feeling G-d’s everlasting love in return.