“Love Hashem with all your heart, all your soul, and all your means” —Deuteronomy
As a bird soars the skies on its two wings, so a mitzvah is carried upward upon wings of love and awe. Loving G‑d is a mitzvah – one of only six that are applicable every waking moment.
However, there is a poblem, how do we grow wings? Meaning: If you don’t love, how does it help to have a mitzvah to love if you don’t have the wings of love to bring that mitzvah up to Hashem?
As it turns out, we were all born with wings, we just need some exercise to get them up and flapping. We have an innate love of G‑d, but, as Maimonides writes, if you never think about G‑d it’s hard to feel love for Him. In the morning, before prayer, think about G‑d’s greatness. Examine the wonders of His creation. Imagine what it takes to get such a place up and running, out of absolute zilch, nothing. And then think how G-d sustains its existence at every moment. Next, think of your own relative smallness, how insignificant you are next to such greatness. Now imagine how this great Creator is putting everything aside, so to speak, to pay attention to your prayers, help you do your mitzvot, learn Torah with you, and generally carry you through life. His love for you is as infinite as He is. Now you have the wings, send a few mitzvot flying. You have a purpose in this world, do it out of love! It’s a lot more pleasant than grinding through life.
Love is a contagious mitzvah: When others see someone whose life is motivated by the love of G‑d, they unfold their wings to fly along with him or her. The Torah speaks of the importance of loving G-d, something which once was obvious, but is not so today. I point that out because I always find it interesting when cultures of Torah change so much that that which was simple to one group of Torah observant Jews is not to others. It calls on us to pause and think about that change, to see whether we’ve lost something important, or whether times have just changed.
The whole world sings and dreams about being in love. But do we even know what “love” means? Love is the emotional pleasure of observing another’s excellence. As Maimonides writes: A person can only love according to the degree he knows the object of his love. If he knows a little, he can love a little. And if he knows a lot, he can love a lot.
When someone gives you a gift, the natural response is to love the source of that gift. The world of nature, with all its phenomenal genius, beauty and symmetry is all a gift from Hashem. What is the path to love G-d? When one reflects Hashem’s great and wonderful acts of creation, and sees in them a genius that has no comparison, then automatically a person will love, praise, glorify and deeply desire to know the greatness of Hashem. The wonders of creation are endless. Birds, flowers, the Grand Canyon, babies, the balance of the universe and the smallest details of the human body. It’s all a wonder. And as science makes more discoveries, deeper layers constantly emerge.
The Talmud says that one of the first questions we’re asked after we die and stand before the Heavenly Tribunal is: “Did you taste all of G-d’s fruits?” The beauty of fruit is that it not only sustains us nutritionally, but it also includes many other benefits like taste, texture, color, and form. In other words, did you appreciate G-d’s gifts in this world. How do we appreciate the value of G-d’s gift? By focusing on the fact that what we lack is nothing in comparison to what we already have. Consider your eyes, for example. You couldn’t buy an eye for a million dollars. Yet Hashem gave you a pair of eyes that work more accurately and efficiently than the most sophisticated computerized digital vision devices. And they’re free. Think about creation, then plug it back into the Source. This brings you to loving Hashem, with all your possessions.
When we look out over the Grand Canyon, we are amazed. When we see a field blanketed in freshly fallen snow, we are filled with a sense of peace. When lightning illuminates a star-studded sky, we are overjoyed. And when a baby is born, we feel purity and perfection. It stands to reason that the better someone understands nature, the more they should love Hashem. Yet if this process is so simple, why are there so many scientists, who best understand the perfection of nature, who do not come closer to G-d? Shouldn’t it be automatic. Loving Hashem is a matter of focus. Two people can witness an identical scene, yet walk away with very different impressions. Why? They focused on different details based on their existing attitudes and experiences. Whenever your brain absorbs new information, it enters a filing system which forms your basic outlook on life. You automatically translate everything you see and hear in comparison to that preexisting system.
The one prerequisite to attain love of Hashem is to be open-minded. Don’t decide what truth is going to look like in advance. Remove the blocks that prevent you from viewing the world with honesty and openness. You have to really want to know, without any biases: “What is nature telling me”? Judaism says that G-d is hidden within nature. It is through the beauty of nature that we discover G-d. Just as every stroke of Picasso’s brush bears his signature, so too everything in this world has Hashem’s signature. As Einstein once said, “I want to know how G-d created the universe. The rest is details.” Deep down, in our heart of hearts, in our innermost consciousness, every human being wants meaning.
In Mesilat Yesharim, Rabbi Luzzatto says that man was created only to enjoy the eternal pleasure of closeness to Hashem. Everyone wants to be close to G-d. But it is difficult. We try avoiding it, but it’s a fact that we must work on even though it might not be easy. That’s why the Torah can command us in the emotion of love. The verse says to put the love of Hashem on your hearts. The love is already there, we just need to tap into it.
Realize that G-d is all “good.” There’s nothing to hide from. There’s no reason to close your eyes or your heart. Because all He wants to do is give you everything you’ve ever wanted. When you love someone, you get tremendous pleasure in doing things for them – even difficult things. Therefore, your degree of pleasure in doing things for Hashem indicates how much “love of G-d” you have achieved.
One’s desire to share G-d with others is an accurate gauge of their own love of G-d. It’s natural to share with others what you love the most, as in the proud grandmother eagerly showing pictures of her grandchildren.
Abraham became the first Jew, not because he was the first to connect with G-d, but because he was the first to go out and share it with others. He pitched his tent right in the middle of an intercity highway, in order to engage others in discussion. And King Shlomo says,”I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me” (Song of Songs 6:3). It’s a two-way street, and Hashem is always ready to be involved.
But don’t wait for this dynamic to happen by itself. Pursue it intelligently. Be willing to invest time and effort to get this pleasure. It’s a lifelong pursuit, and that’s why the love of G-d is a constant mitzvah. Life is a long series of events to becoming increasingly aware of the greatness of Hashem. Focus on nature, Torah, history and the present time, and plug it all back into the love of G-d. Without it, you’re slipping out of Creation.