What is Love?
At least twice daily, in the Shema prayer, we recite "וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת ה' אֱלֹהֶיך", commonly understood to mean "You shall love Hashem" (Devarim 6:5). What, though, does it mean to love God? Love is difficult to define, and often means different things to different people. It could refer to: romantic attachment, giving and doing for another, loyalty, or trust. The question is even more complex when speaking of Hashem. Can the term even be applied to a being that one cannot see, let alone comprehend? Is love of Hashem comparable to human love, or must it be defined in completely different terms?
Commanding an Emotion?
The verse raises a second issue as well. How can one be commanded to love? Are emotions subject to one's will? Though it is fair to expect a person to act in a certain way to another being, is it reasonable to demand of someone to feel a certain way?
- The verses surrounding the phrase "וְאָהַבְתָּ" speak of the need to recognize the unity of Hashem ("ה' אֱלֹהֵינוּ ה' אֶחָד") and to reflect on or observe His commandments ("וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם עַל לְבָבֶךָ"). How do these relate to the obligation of loving Hashem?
- What does it mean to love Hashem "בְּכׇל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכׇל נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכׇל מְאֹדֶךָ"? Is this just a metaphoric way of saying that one should love Hashem extensively, or do the terms speak more intrinsically to the nature of love?
- How do other commandments involving love of another, such as the directives to love our neighbor (Vayikra 19:18) and a foreigner (Vayikra 19:34), compare to the obligation to love God? Does "love" have a consistent meaning in each of these instances?