“Thus said Hashem…I have loved you with an eternal love, therefore I have extended lovingkindness to you” (Jeremiah 32:1,2).
As we mentioned in previous letters, the term “Hashem” – which literally means, “The Name” – is a respectful way of referring to the most sacred Divine Name. Our sages teach that this Divine Name expresses the Divine attribute of rachamim - compassion (Sifri on Deut. 3:24). According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the term rachamim is derived from rechem – womb; thus, rachamim refers to the loving empathy and connection which we associate with “motherly” love. (Commentary to Genesis 43:14).
In addition, the Vilna Gaon states that this most sacred Divine Name refers to the One Who gives existence to all (cited in “Shaarei Aharon, Genesis 2:4). As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains, the meaning and grammatical form of this Divine Name denotes not only the One Who grants existence, but the One Who is always ready to grant new life (commentary to Genesis 2:4).
If this Divine Name refers to the One Who gives life to all creation, then this Name is also expressing the Divine love. As Rabbi Hirsch writes: “The birth of creation is love, the existence of every creature is love, the maintenance of the world is love, its ordering and advancement is love, love for the whole, love for every individual, for you” (Horeb 72). In this spirit, King David proclaimed: “Your lovingkindness, Hashem, fills the earth” (Psalm 119:64). And in this spirit, an Aramaic name for Hashem that is used by our sages is “Rachmana” – the Loving One.
When we read a verse from the Torah or from our traditional prayers with the most sacred Divine Name, we do not pronounce it as “Hashem”; instead, we pronounce it as Ado-nai – the Master of All. This is a reminder that we human beings are not the masters of the world, for the Loving Creator of all life is the Master of All.
The most sacred Divine Name appears in the “Shema” – the following proclamation of the Divine Oneness and Unity which we chant twice each day, morning and evening:
Shema Yisrael, Ado-nai Elo-heinu, Ado-nai Echad. – Hear O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One! (Deut. 6:4)
As we shall begin to discuss, the proclamation, “Hashem is One,” alludes to the idea that Hashem is Love. To understand this allusion, we need to remember that each Hebrew letter is also a number. According to our spiritual tradition, the numerical value of each word in the Torah can allude to deeper meanings and insights. This area of Torah wisdom is known as gematriyah, and the following teaching can serve as an example:
The Hebrew word echad means “one” or “unified,” and its letters add up to 13. The letters of the Hebrew word ahavah – love – also add up to 13. This alludes to a deep connection between oneness and love. If we understand this connection, we will realize that when we say, “Hashem is One,” we are also saying, “Hashem is Love.”
How can we understand this connection? The awareness of oneness can evoke love. If I feel that I am “one” with an individual, then I begin to love that individual. If I feel that I am “one” with a community, then I begin to love that community. And if I feel that I am “one” with all creation, then I begin to love all creation.
How do we begin to feel that we are one with all creation? We begin with the consciousness that Hashem – the Loving Creator of all life – is One! The awareness that the creation – in all its diversity – comes from the One Source leads to the awareness that all creation is one. And the awareness that we are one with all creation leads us to feel love for all creation.
The above teachings reveal a life-giving truth to all spiritually-searching souls: When we discover Hashem – the Source of all life, we are also discovering the Source of all love. Hear O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is Love.
Love and Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. The awareness that Hashem is the One Loving Source of all life also leads us to love Hashem. We can therefore understand why the verse, “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One,” is followed by:
“And you shall love Hashem, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources” (Deut. 6:5).
2. The most sacred Hebrew Name of God that we respectfully refer to as “Hashem” has four letters, and their numerical value is twenty-six. The Hebrew word for love has a numerical value of 13, and the most sacred Hebrew Divine Name has twice that numerical value. What truth is this alluding to? It may be revealing to us that in order for Hashem to be fully present in a relationship, there must be reciprocal love. If I love you, but you don't love me, then Hashem is not fully present. But if we both love each other, then the “13” of my love, and the “13” of your love add up to the “26” of the Divine Name. We can experience the presence of Hashem when love flows in both directions – from me to you and from you to me.
3. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch reminds us that as human beings created in the Divine image, we are to strive to emulate the Divine love. Rabbi Hirsch writes: “Let the goal of your striving after God be love – love in deed and action with every power that is in you, in every moment of your existence, in order that you may become a blessing in your own circle, in whatever way and whatever place you can.” (Horeb 72)
4. It is written, “Love Your neighbor as yourself, I am Hashem” (Leviticus 19:18). Why, does this mitzvah to love others conclude with the words, “I am Hashem”? Through these words, explains Rabbi Hirsch, the Giver of the Torah is proclaiming, “I am Hashem, the personification of love, Who has chosen the human being to be the instrument of this love.” (Horeb 16)