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Can Love be Commanded?
By Nachum Mohl
I don't like fish but I love olives. What if some one, say a father, were to command a son to love fish – would the son be able to overcome his inherent dislike of fish and begin to love it? I would say, no, a person who has a dislike of a certain food can not change what his tongue likes or does not like. He may be able to understand what it is that he likes or does not like, the saltiness, the odor, the bitterness, etc, but I believe that he can not change his tongue's rejections and turn them over into 'beloved' foods.
With this in mind, let us probe a bit deeper. How is it possible that G-d has given us a mitzvah to 'love' Him? Is this not the same as what we stated above? If we do not have love in our hearts for G-d, is it possible to change our nature and begin to love G-d? If we can not, how can we be commanded in Deuteronomy 6:5, which is the basic part of the Shema prayer, “And you shall love G-d with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your might”? Is this not the same a forcing a person to love something which he has no feeling or desire for?
Let us deepen our understanding. The Rambam lists the 613 commandments that we are expected to do. The Rambam lists the commandments in a certain manner to stress their importance. The first mitzvah that he lists is to believe in G-d. The second is to realize that G-d is One with all of the universe. The third mitzvah listed is to love G-d. We see from this that the Rambam understands that it is possible to command someone to love G-d otherwise it would be foolish to make such a command. What is it that makes it possible to command someone to love G-d yet to command someone to love fish or olives may be just a foolish folly?
To understand the answer, we must realize the basic difference between food and G-d. Fish or olives, as an example, exist totally without the realm of man; man can exist without fish or olives and olives or fish can exist without the man. A man can exist by eating and enjoying other foods; he is not dependent on fish or olives alone for his life.
Man's relationship to G-d is different. Man can not exist independent from G-d; man's total existence is dependent on G-d. More than that, nothing exists outside of G-d. While we may appear to have an independent existence, it is only because our senses, eyes, ears, smell, etc, can not perceive G-d. It is us who are limited beings, like a plant or a stone that can not see as we do since they do not have the eyes. We too do not possess preceptors to 'see' G-d and therefore can not properly perceive Him in the world. If we were to have our spiritual 'eyes' opened to see G-d in the world, we would see that everything is Him and there is nothing else.
Our life both in the physical existence and also in the realm of thought which is unique among all of the earth's inhabitants, is really dependent on His will that we exist. If He were to revoke that will, we would cease to exist. Our reality, our every day, every moment existence is totally dependent upon His good will, which He never retracts. Even when man sins against Him, He gives man the ability to continue.
Because of this, the Rambam continues his explanation of the mitzvah to love G-d by continuing to explain that when we contemplate on G-d, that He commanded and the world came into existence it will draw us into loving G-d since He is the source of our existence and the provider for our physical needs.
G-d is not an outside unrelated item like fish or olives, rather He is part of us. To love G-d is to love one’s self. Just as we should all have a love of self, this love of self includes the love of our source, G-d.
But the active concept of love of G-d is dependent on one condition and that is the contemplation and awareness of G-d's goodness to us both as a national entity and also as an individual being. The more we contemplate on His goodness, the greater will be our awareness of Him, and so in proportion will be our love towards him. This requires concentration on our part; we must set aside time to contemplate the goodness of G-d in our individual lives. The more we contemplate on His goodness, the more we will be aware of Him and the more love we will feel in our hearts.
However the more we look at ourselves as a separate entity, as a creation that stands apart and of itself, the less we can feel any love for G-d. It is a reverse relationship. The more we try to see G-d in our lives, the more He will give us the ability to perceive Him in this world. The more we try to see ourselves as the focal point of the world, the less we will be able to perceive Him in the world. Where as the choice is ours, the mitzvah of contemplating G-d as specified in the Shema prayer continues to exist for us to take the opportunity.
from the August 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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