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Torah Attitude: Parashas Mishpatim: How can one Love G'd?
"Everything that G'd spoke we will do and we will listen to." In order to accept the Torah unconditionally, one must first develop a feeling of love towards G'd. How we can be expected to love G'd? When a person internalizes the words of the Torah, he gets to recognize Who G'd is. When one investigates any part of the Creation, one gains an insight into the infinite wisdom of G'd. Every time we fulfill a commandment we should do it out of love for G'd. We must conduct ourselves in such a way that G'd will be loved by others through our actions. Our love for G'd should also bring us to spread the word of G'd amongst others, and encourage them to serve Him. Our love for G'd enables us to reach out to our fellow Jews to teach them about the greatness of G'd, and show them how G'd, in His great wisdom, created this world for our benefit.
We will do and we will listen
In last week's Parasha, we read how G'd gave the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people at the revelation at Mount Sinai. Towards the end of this week's Parasha (Shemos 24:7), the Torah reveals how the Jewish people responded: "And they said, 'Everything that G'd spoke we will do and we will listen to.'"
Love for G'd
The Talmud (Shabbat 88a) relates how a Sadducee once confronted Rabba, one of the great rabbis of the Talmud. Rabba was studying Torah with such intensity that he did not notice that his finger was bleeding. When the Sadducee saw how Rabba was bleeding he said: "You were a rash people when you let your mouth go ahead of your ears. You still have not changed your ways. You ought to have listened first to see if you liked it. Only then should you have accepted it. And if you did not like it you should not have accepted it." Rabba answered, "We acted with complete faith." Rashi explains that the Jewish people acted out of love for G'd, and trusted that He would not demand anything of us that we could not handle (see Torah Attitude: Parashas Yithro: Do first, listen later, January 27, 2005). This teaches us that in order to accept the Torah unconditionally, one must first develop a feeling of love towards G'd. This is the next thing mentioned in the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos of the 48 things needed to acquire Torah.
Commanded to love
Every day when we recite the Shema we mention how we are commanded to love G'd. As it says (Devarim 6:5): "And you shall love HASHEM, your G'd, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources." In general, we understand love as an emotion. If so, how we can be commanded to love? If a person loves G'd then there is no need to command him to do so. And if he does not, what effect will this commandment have on him? It is even more difficult to understand how we can be expected to love G'd, Who we have never seen, and Who we cannot fathom with any physical description.
Upon your heart
Our sages deal with this problem in the Sifri (6:6), as quoted by Rashi. The Sifri asks, how is it possible for a person to love G'd? The Sifri continues to explain that the answer is written in the next verse of the Torah. As it says (Devarim 6:6): "And these things that I command you today shall be upon your heart." This refers to the Torah. Says the Sifri, when a person internalizes the words of the Torah, he gets to recognize Who G'd is. The more one studies, the more one gets to know G'd. The Rambam (The Book of the Commandments, Positive commandment 3) elaborates on this and says that, the more a person investigates and makes an effort to understand G'd's commandments, as well as G'd's deeds, the more he will comprehend and the more he will enjoy life. This, says the Rambam, is how the Sifri teaches us to develop a love for G'd.
In the Laws of Torah Fundamentals (2:2), the Rambam writes that when one investigates any part of the Creation, one gains an insight into the infinite wisdom of G'd. This is an additional tool one can use to develop a love for G'd. The more one studies, the more one gets a urge to understand Who G'd is and how He takes care of every detail of the universe. Most people walk around with questions about how G'd has dealt with the world over the years, especially how He has let His Chosen People suffer so much throughout our long and bitter exile. These questions stem from a lack of understanding of G'd and His ways, and the ultimate purpose of man being in this world. The Zohar (Acharei Mos 73a) teaches that G'd and the Torah is one inseparable entity. This means that the only way we can get an insight into Who G'd is, and how He conducts the world, is by delving into the depths of the Torah. Obviously, a superficial reading of the Torah will not provide this insight. Only someone who dedicates himself to serious Torah study in depth will have the ability to achieve such an understanding. The deeper one reaches into the depths of Torah, the more one understands and with that comes the ability to reach a higher level of love of G'd.
Express love for G'd
Rashi quotes from the Sifri how we should express our love for G'd in a practical way. Every time we fulfill a commandment we should do it out of love for G'd. Some people keep the commandments because this is how they were brought up and it comes to them naturally without too much thought about what they are actually doing. They keep kosher, observe the Shabbos, and pray three times a day, and their whole lifestyle is Torah observant. But their observance is on "automatic pilot". They go through the motions and do everything right without a need or urge to think too much about it. There are other people who really would like to live a different lifestyle, but they believe in G'd and they know that every act of theirs will be scrutinized in front of the Heavenly Court. They fear the consequence in this world, or in the World to Come, if they would abandon the Torah commandments. Says the Sifri, when the Torah commands us to love G'd, it instructs us to fulfill the commandments out of a love and appreciation for G'd. On a regular day one will not notice the difference between these three categories of observant Jews. But when times are difficult, and we are being tested by G'd, says the Sifri, then we will see very clearly who is who. For under difficult conditions, only those who serve G'd out of love will endure. The rest will have plenty of complaints and excuses to abandon the ways of the Torah.
Loved by others
The Talmud (Yuma 86a) adds an additional aspect of how we are expected to express our love for G'd. The Talmud teaches that we must conduct ourselves in such a way that G'd will be loved by others through our actions. This, says the Talmud, we can accomplish by being honest in our business dealings, and in general through our pleasant conduct with our fellow human beings. When people see the honesty and decency of an observant Jew, they will come to recognize the importance of Torah study, and how it affects every aspect of a person's life. And eventually they too will come to love G'd and His Torah. If, G'd forbid, an observant Jew is not honest in his dealings, and does not talk to others in a pleasant way, one causes a desecration of G'd's name. This sin, says the Talmud, is more difficult to achieve atonement for than the transgression of any other commandment in the Torah.
Spread the word
The Rambam (Book of Commandments) continues to explain that our love for G'd should also bring us to spread the word of G'd amongst others, and encourage them to serve Him. This, says the Rambam, is comparable to someone who likes another person. He will be more than happy to praise him and tell his friends about this special person and his good deeds. The Rambam quotes from the Sifri that this is what our Patriarch Abraham did. He constantly spoke to people to bring them to understand that there is a G'd Who created the world and runs it for the benefit of mankind. This is why Abraham is referred to as someone who loved G'd. As the Prophet Isaiah (41:8) says: "And you, Israel … descendants of Abraham, who loved Me." It was Abraham's great love for G'd, says the Rambam, that brought him to spread the word amongst his contemporaries. And just like Abraham, we are also obligated to teach others about G'd as an expression of our love for G'd.
We live in a time when thousands of Jews are ignorant about their Creator, and what He expects of them. These are not necessarily people who decided to abandon the way of the Torah. Rather, they were never given the opportunity to learn. Many others have abandoned their life as observant Jews because they were brought up in homes where Torah was observed either without too much thought or out of fear. Both categories lack a love for G'd and feel no joy in Judaism. Our ancestors showed us at Mount Sinai that in order to accept the Torah way of life, we must trust in G'd and feel a basic love for Him. In turn, once we start to study the Torah in depth, it will help us to develop this love even further. Finally, our love for G'd enables us to reach out to our fellow Jews to teach them about the greatness of G'd, and show them how G'd, in His great wisdom, created this world for our benefit. In this way, we will bring ourselves closer to the Torah, and its acceptance, and bring our brothers and sisters back to a Torah lifestyle, and instil in them, as well, a love for G'd and joy in observing the commandments.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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