Parsha Mitzvot-Vaetchanan-Eikev-Concepts 4-5- Love & Awe
Transcribed and unedited: Now, the obvious problem is, what do you mean, that there is a mitzvah to love God. You can’t hold a gun to someone’s head and say, “Love me.” So, obviously, the mitzvah is, as the Rambam says as follows: “vehaich hih haderech leahavato veyir’ato” what is the path that one should take to be in love with God and to be in awe?
By the way, which one comes first? Love, not awe. So obviously, it doesn’t mean fear, it means awe. A, W, E.
So the Rambam says as follows in the second chapter of Yisodei HaTorah, second paragraph: “b’shaach sheyitbonen ha’adam bimaacsav ub’ruav hanifla’im v’hag’dolim, v’yireh mehem hochmato she ain lahem loa erech v’loa ketz, miyad hoo ohev umshabeah umifaer.” When a person ponders creation, the person says, “Wow, this is incredible,” and praises the Creator, “Umitaveh ta’avah G’idolah laydac,” and has a tremendous desire to understand and to learn more. That is the fulfillment of the mitzvah to love God, to ponder the world and say, “This is incredible, and to say, “Wow! I’m dying to learn more about the Creator of such an incredible world.” That is the fulfillment of loving God.
So, when you wake up in the morning and you say, “Wow, what a beautiful morning,” and you say, “I’m going to learn about the world and the beauty that God has brought into the world” or “I want to learn more about God,” you have fulfilled the mitzvah of loving God.
Then, as you learn more about God, you begin to realize how insignificant the human being is in front of God, in proportion to God. That’s all.
And then, what does the Rambam do in the next chapter? He gives an astronomy lesson. The Ptolemaic astronomy lesson, which is all wrong, but he gives an astronomy lesson. Why is he giving an astronomy lesson? Why does he follow the mitzvah of loving God with an astronomy lesson and then his summary to the astronomy lesson is that when you know this, you will love God.
So what is he telling you? Just look around you. In other words, you don’t have to force yourself into Torah to develop this love of God. The Torah will allow the love to develop, to understand the world, what God is teaching you through the world, what each part of the world symbolizes, but you can literally achieve love of God by looking around you. That’s all. To be fascinated by the world is love of God. To be fascinated by creation is love of God.
I remember I once heard a story about a famous atheist who was asked, “If you believed in God, what would be the first thing you said about him?” and he said, “the first thing I would say about him is ‘God loves beetles.’” Because there are so many species of beetles in the earth and no matter what you do, there’s nothing you can do to kill it. So, there’s nothing you can do. So, basically, God loves them.
And, by the way, the Midrash says that’s how Avraham fell in love with God. Avraham looked at the world and he said, “What? There’s an animal that’s a thief that has a face that looks like a mask!” A raccoon “That’s a good God.”
And you learn about creation, and it’s just unbelievable what you learn about it.
I remember the times when I had my biggest struggles with God, my father used to make me read science books. My most difficult spiritual crisis, my father made me read Lewis Thomas’s The Medusa and the Snail. I read The Medusa and the Snail, and I said, “Whatever. Whether God gave the Torah or not, I don’t know, but that God is great and cool (that was the word I used then), that I know [or groovy].” So, then, that’s an incredible idea. Love and awe of God simply comes from being aware of what goes on around us.
Now there’s also another level to love of God, and this is that whenever you talk about love of God, or love of another being, what are you doing? You are identifying with that which is positive in the other being.
So, you know the famous two stories, that someone comes over to you and says, “You know, I love my son, Gary.” “Yeah? Why do you love your son, Gary?” “Well, he’s kind, and he’s sweet, and he’s very charitable and he’s very handsome,” the man says. The other person answers, “That may be true, but he’s also a thief, he has no respect for his parents, and he doesn’t come to davening on time.” “Yeah, but I love him anyways.”
The other scenario is, the father says, “You know, my son Gary, I love him. He’s a thief, has no respect for his mother, and doesn’t come to davening on time.” The other one says, “Yeah, but he’s sweet, and he’s kind, and he’s charitable.” “Yeah, but I love him anyway.”
The second one makes sense? Which one is more probable? The first one. Because love means you identify with that which is positive in the other. That’s how we define it.
What does it mean, when it says you should love every Jew? It means you simply always look at a person, you see something positive in them. So, it’s a great thing to practice.
So with God, you see something positive in God. You know what, God, when I saw the stars, or, when I saw that picture of Saturn, I said you’re cool. That’s nice, then you fulfilled the mitzvah of loving God.
Or, when I saw a child being born, then I knew, because it’s the greatest thing in the world. It’s beautiful.
So, that’s the way of fulfilling the mitzvah of loving God and being in awe of God. What do we learn from this mitzvah? To appreciate what’s going on around us, that’s all. To be aware of it, to pay attention to it, and to somehow associate it with God.