“And you shall love the L-rd your G-d…” [Dev. 6:5]
How does one command love? We may think that regarding love, you either have it, or you don’t. That, however, must not be correct — for if it were, it couldn’t be a Commandment. We must have tools in hand that help us to develop this love.
Both the Sefer HaChinuch and the Rambam (Maimonides) list all of the Commandments, and approach this one in much the same way. They quote the Midrash, which reads (in approximate translation) as follows:
“When the Torah says ‘And you shall love the L-rd your G-d’, I do not know how one is to love the Supreme Being. Thus the Torah says ‘And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your hearts…’ [v. 6], because from this a person will come to recognize He Who spoke and created the world.” The Sefer HaChinuch explains: By concentrating upon Torah, love for G-d will come naturally into your heart. How? If we think about His actions and His ways, we will come to recognize him according to our abilities, and that recognition will afford us great enjoyment.
The scholars of the Midrash, the author of the Sefer HaChinuch, and Maimonides — all say essentially the same thing: deep involvement in Torah learning, if done with the proper intent and desires, brings a person to recognition of his Creator.
The Toldos Yaakov Yosef says that at the very core of all of Torah and Mitzvos, and our prayers, is preparation to come to fulfillment of “And you shall love the L-rd your G-d…”
Similarly, Maimonides lists love of G-d at the very beginning of his list of Mitzvos, immediately after belief in G-d’s existence. The same is true in his 14-volume work on the full breadth of Jewish law — it is found in the first volume, Fundamentals of Torah, after belief.
The Nesivos Shalom asks: if it is true that love of G-d is so important, so central, then why is it not found until now, in the book of Devarim? Devarim is called “Mishneh Torah,” review of Torah, because in it Moshe reviews the lessons learned with the Children of Israel. If this is such an important Mitzvah, why isn’t it found with “I am HaShem your G-d,” G-d’s first words to the Jewish People in the Ten Commandments?
His answer again refers to to the concept that all the other Commandments, especially Torah learning, prepare and enable us to love G-d. He says that since love of G-d is not something that comes directly to the heart of a person, but rather is something we cannot feel properly without development in learning and Mitzvos — the Mitzvah is to do all the preparation, to heal ourselves of the things which block our hearts from love of G-d, and thus to come to feel that love properly.
Only after learning Torah and doing Mitzvos can one hope to come to the appropriate level of love of G-d. It’s not something that happens overnight. So it is appropriate to teach this Mitzvah in Devarim, after teaching us the Torah, Mitzvos, all of the ways we can follow in His Pathways — because these are the things which help us achieve love of G-d.
It is certainly possible for a person to learn for a while, do some Mitzvos, and wonder why he or she doesn’t feel more. Isn’t the sky supposed to open up, or something similarly profound supposed to happen? The answer is that nothing like that is guaranteed, or even expected. Judaism isn’t about leaps of faith, but about slow, logical steps, a progression of ongoing development and self-perfection. This is something that lasts a lifetime — the obligation isn’t to feel everything tomorrow, but to begin taking the necessary steps to achieve that feeling, today!
Rabbi Yaakov Menken