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 some couples manage to keep the love going strong for the long term, the fifty-plus-percent divorce rate is ample evidence that many 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 (Devarim 6:5).
Aside from the inherent difficulty in loving a Being that we cannot see or feel, the notion of being commanded to feel something seems odd. After all, love is the most sublime of human emotions, originating in the depths of one’s heart and soul; how can one be commanded to feel 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 for the Perplexed 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 every one of us has experienced this. In a quiet moment, when gazing at the stars on a clear summer night, we feel deep inside that there is something extraordinary and beautiful about this world. At such moments, our 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 of Torah constantly, “when we arise and when we retire,” “at home and on the road,” to put mezuzot on our doorposts, and tefillin on our hand, opposite our hearts and our minds.
A beautiful sunset fills us with awe and inspiration, but the study of the Torah continuously reminds us 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 power of our arms and pledge to dedicate our might to making the world a better place. Enjoying the great outdoors may give us an appreciation of the incredible home G-d made for wildlife; affixing a mezuzah to our doorpost allows us to focus on the gift of our homes.
Falling in love may be a great way to start a relationship, but the day-to-day dedication makes it last. Admiring the magnificence of G-d’s creation is an excellent source of inspiration; an ongoing commitment to Torah and mitzvot, 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 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” (Mishlei 27:19). The more effort we exert to delve into G-d’s Torah and creations and to honestly say, “G-D, I LOVE YOU,” the more we will merit feeling G-d’s everlasting love 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.