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Avraham Avinu and Ahavat Hashem

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Nov 1, 2005

The Torah regards Avraham Avinu as the paradigmatic theophile. He is described by Yeshayahu ha-Navi as “Avraham, my lover (41:8).” This means that Avraham properly fulfilled the mitzvah of Ahavat Hashem, one of the most difficult and important mitzvot in the Torah. Rabbeinu Tam derives the boundaries of Mitzvat Ahavat Hashem by analyzing the scriptural and Midrashic narratives about Avraham Avinu(1) . By doing the same, we can address some relevant issues that surround this mitzvah.

The commandment to love Hashem (Devarim 6:5) presents us with two difficulties. First, how can the Torah require us to possess an emotion? We can force our bodies to don tefillin, we can make our mouths pray. We can even, with persistent effort, divert our cognitions from negative pursuits to positive ones. In contrast, our emotions spring from a source that is more deeply rooted in our being than any of these. (Reflecting on this reality, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter said that it is easier to finish the entire Talmud than to alter a single character trait.) How, then, can Hashem demand of us an emotion?

Second, this problem is compounded by the nature of our love’s intended recipient. It would be fine if Hashem commanded us (as he indeed did) to love our wife, our family, every Jew, or every human being. People are tangible, observable. We can love them in a concrete and definite way. But how are we to love Hashem, the intangible and invisible, who even forbids the manufacture or possession of any icon or representation of Himself?

The Rambam mentions that the study of Torah and the study of nature can aid a person in acquiring Ahavat Hashem(2). This definition stems from the Rambam’s synonymization of love of G-d with knowledge of G-d. One can know a distant author from his literary works, a distant sculptor from his statues; one can know Hashem from the Torah that he wrote and from the world that he formed. (Thus, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik pointed out that women, who are exempt from studying Torah for its own sake, might still study it in order to acquire Ahavat Hashem.) The Rambam, then, does not identify the commandment to love Hashem with an emotion. Rather, he believes that it binds us to pursue those actions that condition such emotions in man. Rather than focus on the causes of Ahavat Hashem, Rabbeinu Tam focuses on its results. Love of G-d, says Rabbeinu Tam, imbues man with the desire to learn and teach Torah. Thus, Avraham explicated the tenets of monotheism and disseminated them amongst his entire generation, as the Torah testifies in no fewer than three places(3). It similarly leads him to endure calamities and insults with calmness and stoicism. Therefore, the Midrash records Avraham’s tranquil acceptance of Nimrod’s horrific punishment for destroying his father’s idols(4). Our charge, then, is not simply to love Hashem. It is to act as we would if we loved Hashem. Both the Rambam’s focus on the roots of love and Rabbeinu Tam’s emphasis on the manifestations of love do not displace the feeling and emotion that lies at the mitzvah’s core. Nor are their explanations mutually exclusive. However, they do help us understand not only what Hashem asks of us in this difficult commandment, but also how he asks it of us.

1 Cited in Shenei Luchot ha-Berit, Derashot 3-4.

2 Sefer ha-Mitzvot, Positive Commandment 3, Hilchot Yesodei ha-Torah 2:1-3, Hilchot Teshuvah 10:1-3.

3 Bereishit 12:8,13:4, 21:33.

4 Yalkut Shimoni 14.



Einayim L'torah Parshat Lech Lecha 5766. Ephraim Meth

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