Before you begin to wonder what “the day of love” is, I will let the cat out of the bag: I am referring to Shavuos. “Really!” you are probably thinking. “I know it is the day we receive the Torah, a day when many stay up all night learning, a day of celebrating with cheesecake . . . but a day of love?”
But that is the truth. We begin every Shemoneh Esrei of Yom Tov with the joyous declaration: “Atah vichartanu mi’kol ha’amim – You have chosen us from all the nations. Ahavta osanu – You loved us, v’ratzisa banu – You desired us.” The Siach Yitzchok (in Siddur Hagra) explains that these words refer to the three festivals. You chose us on Pesach, You showed us Your love on Shavuos by giving us the Torah, and You desired us on Sukkos, by returning the clouds of glory after the sin of the golden calf.
How does receiving the Torah show us Hashem’s love to us?
The bracha that we recite right before krias shema of Shachris is also known as “the bracha of Torah,” as in this blessing we ask Hashem to teach us His Torah. The introduction to this prayer is “Ahava rabbah ahavtanu, chemla gedolah v’yiseirah chamaltah aleinu – With an abundant love You have loved us, with exceedingly great pity have You pitied us.” Such a declaration is unparalleled in our daily prayers. And in the evening prayer we say that it is an eternal love – Ahavas olam. The fact that Hashem gave us His Torah shows us that He does not merely love us – it is an eternal and overwhelming love!
Then we continue with the most heartfelt plea in the entire seder hatefillah: “Our Father, the merciful Father Who acts mercifully, have mercy upon us, instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform and fulfill all the words of Your Torah’s teaching with love!” And finally, it concludes “…who chooses Klal Yisroel with love.”
Were it not for the great and infinite love that Hashem has for us, we would not have received the Torah, nor would we dare ask for the gift of Torah on a regular basis. Let us explain.
Tree of Life
Rav Chaim Volozhiner (Nefesh Hachaim, Sha’ar 4, chapter 33) explains the pasuk “Eitz chaim he la’machazikim bah – The Torah is a tree of life for those who grasp onto it” with a parable of a man drowning in a raging river. As he is about to go under, he notices a large tree floating by and grabs on for dear life. He knows if he will let go for just one second, he will die. So too, we have been thrown into the vast waters of “Olam Hazeh – this world.” The only way to stay alive is to grab hold of the tree of life – the Torah. If we let go and run after the empty pleasures of the world, even just for a short time, we will have immediately separated ourselves from the source of life. We will be in danger of drowning in the materialism of this mundane world and dying a spiritual death. Only when we learn Torah are we considered to be alive. And the Nefesh Hachaim explains (see chapter 10) that this is because when we learn Torah we attach ourselves – figuratively – to Hashem Yisborach, the true source of life.
How does learning Torah attach us?
The midrash (Shemos Rabah Parsha 33) states: “When a person buys an object, he doesn’t buy the seller with it. However, when Hashem gave us the Torah, He told us that kaviyachol we are taking Him along with it.” In many places the Zohar notes that Torah and Hashem are one.