May 29, 2024
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You might be capable of forcing a person to do something, but can you compel one to feel something? Our parsha states, “You shall love Hashem, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.” How can we be instructed on love—something which is in the area of emotion? How is it plausible to have a mitzvah—a commandment—that is dependent on the nature and inner makeup of a person? (Loving something is extremely subjective and differs from person to person).

Says the Sefat Emet (תרל”ד), the question is the very answer itself! In other words, the very fact that we have such a mitzvah shows that loving Hashem with one’s entire heart and soul is something that is implanted within the nature, character and inner makeup of a person. This love of Hashem is embedded—so deep within the heart of a person—and if one truly wants to find and access this love, he can indeed. So, how does one come to feel the love?

The pasuk—right after the one mentioned above—says, “And these words (of Torah) that I command you today shall be upon your heart.” What is the connection between this pasuk that comes immediately after the pasuk of loving Hashem? Rashi explains, that by observing this pasuk, “one becomes aware of Hashem and attaches himself to His ways.” The Gur Aryeh understands this Rashi to mean that through words of Torah, one recognizes Hashem and that His ways are so good, and then, one will come to love Hashem. Says Rav Henach Leibowitz (“Chiddushei Halev,” Vaetchanan), we learn from here that through learning Torah, one can reach love of Hashem.

Moreover, through doing mitzvot in general—not just Torah study—one can also come to love of Hashem: In parshat Bechukotai, the parsha there begins with stating, “If you will … observe My commandments and perform them,” (Vayikra, 26:3). (To “perform them” seems repetitive, as it already stated, “observe My commandments.”) The Seforno explains that this pasuk is teaching us that by observing the mitzvot in the proper way, this will, ultimately, lead to performing the mitzvot out of love for Hashem and with desire for Hashem’s will. Says Rav Leibowitz, we see from here that not just learning Torah but mitzvot, in general, can also bring to love of Hashem.

For although love of Hashem is within our very nature, there are, however, other factors that may prevent us from fully feeling and being in touch with that love. But, by doing mitzvot with the proper care, it refines us, and, as a result, our love for Hashem will naturally resurface and be felt.

It would emerge that through Torah and mitzvot, one’s love for Hashem can be “revitalized” so-to-speak, and that feeling can be experienced. This is actually what the Sefat Emet himself seems to indicate, as he says in a different piece (תר”נ) that “Torah and mitzvot awakens one’s love for Hashem,” which also sounds like the love of Hashem is already there within us, but Torah and mitzvot are necessary to allow it to resurface and be felt.

Thus, perhaps, we can suggest that it’s indicative from Rav Leibowitz and the Sefat Emet, that Torah and mitzvot don’t necessarily increase our love for Hashem, per se; rather, our love for Hashem is already so great, so powerful and so intense—it’s already maxed out! For its part of our nature—that’s how we were made! It’s just that this love may be hidden, and covered up by whatever it may be, and so, we might not always have the ideal access and receptivity to feel it; however, through Torah and mitzvot, we become cleansed of whatever is blocking that powerful feeling and it, thus, allows our love for Hashem to shine through our hearts.

This could show the inherent purity and greatness of every Jew. Granted, the immense love might not always be apparent. But it’s there… From the Sefat Emet’s insight we can, perhaps, further deduce the tremendous strength of this love and the enormous inner potential we have as a result of it: For the pasuk says to love Hashem, “with all your heart”—i.e, including one’s evil inclination (which possibly means that even when it comes to participating in physical and earthly matters, one is to engage in them for the right reasons—to better serve Hashem); “with all your soul”—i.e, to give away one’s very life for the sake of Hashem; and “with all your might”—i.e., to give away all of one’s money and possessions for the sake of Hashem.

So—based on the Sefat Emet—that love of Hashem is natural, this could, perhaps, show that we all contain the inherent potential to perform these aforementioned great acts indicated by the pasuk of loving Hashem. But it’s through Torah and mitzvot that one can truly access that love and bring the tremendous potential to fruition.

Fortunately, even the drive to serve Hashem—to learn Torah and keep the mitzvot—is natural, much like love of Hashem is natural: parshat Bechukotai contains the “tochacha”—a detailed admonition, depicting the very difficult consequences that can occur as a result of not keeping the Torah properly. Interestingly, a number of times in the tochacha, the Torah places an emphasis that we have treated Hashem with “keri” which could, perhaps, be translated to mean “coldly”—i.e, casually—as in, not giving the appropriate care to keep the Torah. Yet, Rashi brings an explanation from “Menachem” (who compiled a dictionary of the Hebrew language) that “keri” means, “to hold oneself back”or “to resist,” which Rashi says is similar to the explanation of Onkelus, who translates “keri” as “harden”—which refers to hardening one’s heart to resist and hold oneself back from coming close to Hashem.

Says Rav Wolbe, we learn from here that the desire to keep the Torah and to come close to Hashem is part of a Jew’s nature! It’s so natural for a Jew to want to perform Hashem’s will—to keep the Torah and mitzvot—and to not want to, goes against the very nature of a Jew. In fact, the midrash says that, “there is nothing closer to Hashem than the heart of a person,” which teaches us, that by nature a person’s heart is the closest thing to Hashem, which—as a result—means that a person has a natural desire and aspiration to connect and become close to Hashem. Thus, Hashem admonishes us for going against our nature by forcing ourselves to not come close to Him and proactively hardening our hearts—resisting the natural pull and aspiration to want to keep the Torah and connect with Hashem (“Shiurei Chumash,” Bechukotai).

Love for Hashem is natural and the desire and pull to come close to Him through the Torah and mitzvot is so natural—it’s like a force of gravity. If one would only go with this inner flow, one can experience the inherent, deep love for Hashem and, ultimately, do great deeds.


Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan, and of Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

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