Question: Can you please guide me how we can love God? Of course I like Him but I want to know how should we work on living only for Him?
Answer: What a thoughtful and insightful question! The fact that you even ask this question, speaks volumes of you as a person, and your drive to constantly grow as a Jew.
Although I certainly do not have all the answers, I will try to do my best, and to encourage you to hear what other Rabbis have to say on this matter.
Let me start with a very simplistic example, which I believe, will start us off in the right direction.
I hate sardines – can’t stand them. It doesn’t matter if they are in saltwater, or tomato juice, you could not pay me enough to eat them. It stands to reason, therefore, that God would never command us to eat sardines, for there are some who cannot do so. God only asks from us that which is possible for us to do.
There are several places in he Torah, where the Almighty enjoins the Jews to “love him.” Not only that, but there is even a verse that gives the reason for a litany of curses to befall the Jewish People. The Torah tells us, that the reasons for these curses are “because you didn’t worship God with happiness and a full heart.
What is going on here? How can God command us to love him, or to do his bidding with gladness in our hearts? Why is it not enough to do the work, as long as I do it well? Does the boss in a business really care if his top five million dollar salesman loves his job? Obviously he want to keep him content so that he will remain with the company, but at the end of the day, it’s not up to the boss how the employee feels. If so, if we do our share of commandments and worship the Lord to the fullest, why do I need to love – and what do I do when I simply don’t feel it.
Clearly, an explanation is needed.
In Jerusalem, I think he passed away in the early 80’s, there was a great and revered Rabbi, by the name of the “Steipler Rebbe” I it said that when a person walked in the room to get the Rabbi’s blessing, he immediately sized them up, to the point of it being mystical. The Steipler Rav got letters from across the world, and some were published and distributed amongst the masses.
He has a letter written there that had a tremendous impact on me, and hopefully, you will find it inspiring too. A man wrote in to say that he was losing faith, slowly but surely. He wanted to know if the Steipler had any suggestions to restore the man’s belief in the Lord.
The Steipler wrote back to him, with what seems to be, a very peculiar answer. The Rabbi told the man that in order to restore his belief; he should study and keep all the details of Shabbos.
At first glance, I would have thought that the Steipler was mistaken. If the man didn’t believe, why would he keep Shabbos? Let him go to a Discovery Seminar (Highly recommended), let him contemplate his being, and when he gets to the level, and then he will keep Shabbos.
No, said the Steipler, if you want to believe, you must throw yourself into the Mitzvah (the commandment) of recognizing belief, and that is Shabbos! It doesn’t matter whether you feel it right now. We have to throw ourselves into the Mitzvah, and it, by itself, will transform us. In, obviously a more mundane activity, if I get on to a treadmill with no will or desire to do so, eventually my extra weight will come off no matter what.
Yet, this still does not answer our problem. How can I be commanded to Love Hashem? I do all the Mitzvoth, I give a great deal of charity, a good servant of the lord – God what do you want from me. I can’t control my feelings!
The answer, I believe, lies in what the Steipler Rebbe said. The young man said his belief was lacking. The Steipler told him to jump into the pool of Shabbos. By doing so, the holiness of Shabbos enveloped his soul, and caused him to see things in a different light. The problem wasn’t that he couldn’t believe, he just wasn’t looking in the right places.
I once went to see one of the Torah Giants in the city of Bnei Brak. At the time, I was having trouble sitting all day with my Gemara, as I came from a very different background and learning schedule. I came into the Room, received a blessing from the Rabbi, and asked a very short question. “Rabbi, I asked, “How do I get to love learning” You know what he said! Keep learning. I had thought that he would have made out a schedule for me, and that I should cut back on my studies, instead he answered my question with one word – “learn”, because the more one learns, the more the appreciation for the Torah.
In our lexicon today, we have an expression known as “acquired taste” Whether it is wine, art, opera, or something else which we love, chances are we didn’t feel that way the first day we tried it. We must keep our minds open, and as my mom used to say “try it, you will like it” One must become a connoisseur of sorts, to more deeply appreciate Torah and love of Hashem, just as someone who collects expensive portraits, has a deeper regard for paintings, than I, who know nothing about the field.
Now, I want to share a little secret with you, which may startle you upon hearing. You are already on the road to loving God, and quite possibly have reached that stage. Most people don’t ask the question you have posed today. And it’s not because they all “love Him”, it’s because they are not aware that something is missing. As with the examples of the Steipler and the Rebbe who advised to “keep learning”, I would advise you to stop worrying about your love or like, and instead, pick one or two Mitzvot that are close to your heart, and learn their every detail and fulfill them to the utmost. Torah and love/belief or any type of relationship with God is an acquired taste. You sound as though you are on your way to the “acquired finish line”.
Keep up the good work!
Rabbi Mark Nenner
Adventures in Judaism