The Behavior of Those Who Love God
(Based on Chovos HaLevevos, Shaar Ahavas Hashem chapter 7)
It would be impossible to list all of the behaviors of those who love God, but the Chovos HaLevavos gives a nice representative sample.
People who love God know Him. They recognize that He is in control and they are aware of what He expects from us. They understand that every aspect of life is subject to His wisdom and that everything that happens is in accordance with His will. Accordingly, they stop preferring one condition to another since they know that whatever God chooses is what’s best for them.
Those who love God use their power of free will to act in accordance with His wishes, which He expressed through the Torah. This is because they long to please God and to draw themselves closer to Him rather than for the material pleasure of this world.
They praise and thank God for the things they are able to accomplish. If they lack the strength to achieve a goal in their service of God, they apologize to Him and resolve to redouble their efforts. Their strongest desire is to fulfill their service with God’s assistance as per Psalms 119:5, “Would that my ways were directed to observing Your statutes!” God credits their attempts as if they were successful, as He told King David, “Since it was in your heart to build a house for My Name, you did well that it was in your heart” (I Kings 8:18).
Beyond what is actually necessary, they consider physical and material things superfluous. They only care about serving and honoring God. While their bodies may be on Earth, their minds are in Heaven and they serve God as His angels would.
Selfish urges dissipate from their hearts and their physical desires depart from them because they are full of their love for God and their yearning for Him.
Those who love God are modest in their dealings with others. They speak with wisdom and when they say something, they know what they are talking about. If someone should wrong them, they restrain themselves. If you could look into their hearts, you would see that they are humbled before God and simply unconcerned with mundane things.
Since their hearts are full of love for God, they have no interest in idle chatter, which leads to no good.
They distance themselves from all prohibited things and refrain from luxuries in order to follow the path of righteousness and reach spiritual heights. They enjoy goodness in both this world and the Next, and in their merit rains fall and the Earth is renewed.
To those who love God, the 613 mitzvos that God commanded seem like a few small requests when compared to the abundant favors that He bestows upon us at all times. For starters, the 365 negative commandments are really just refraining from things, so aren’t they literally no effort at all? And many mitzvos only apply at certain times, like Shabbos and holidays. And many can only be performed in Israel or the Temple, so how much trouble are sacrifices or tithes really? And other mitzvos require particular situations, like circumcision or redeeming the firstborn. At the end of the day, God asks practically nothing of us – in exchange for which, He gives us so much!
Among the mitzvos that do apply at all times, they find learning and teaching Torah, which they embrace, as per Deuteronomy 6:6-7, “These words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house, when you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you rise up.”
Through duties of the heart, they reach the highest spiritual levels, loving God with their possessions, their bodies and their very lives, as per Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love Hashem your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” They are as close as one can be to the level of the prophets, who are referred to as “those who love God” (Psalms 97:10).
If one wishes to join the ranks of those who love God, he should renounce material pleasures and satisfy himself with the bare minimum. When he eats and drinks, he should do so only to support his health and not to satisfy his desires. He should free his mind from worldly matters. This will not affect one’s ability to earn a living as that is in God’s metaphorical hands. Preoccupation with worldly things only distracts one from his ability to fulfill his spiritual obligations.
One should be aware of the discipline needed to divest himself of his negative traits and allow himself to be guided by wisdom and humility. He should work consistently and patiently towards developing his positive traits. Moderation and gradual growth are called for, as trying to change instantly will overwhelm a person and lead to failure. As the Chovos HaLevavos puts it, adding too much oil to a lamp will extinguish the light.
The one who aspires to this love of God must not allow himself to become negligent or lazy in this work. He should be consistent in his efforts to progress from one goal to the next. He must constantly self-evaluate. Rabbeinu Bachaye recommends a regular review of the Chovos HaLevavos so that one might be continuously reminded of the relevant themes.
One must not expect to see success until he has emptied his heart of his concern for mundane things. By way of analogy, one who is drunk cannot sober up until the wine has left his system. The way to do this is to remove mundane matters from one’s mind when not actually involved in them. Physical isolation is not enough; one must isolate himself spiritually as well.
If one strives to replace material concerns with spiritual matters and duties of the heart, he will earn favor from God, Who will enlighten him. God will accept this person’s good actions and pardon his misdeeds. He will find grace in God’s sight as per Proverbs 8:17, “I love those who love Me; those who seek Me will find Me,” and I Samuel 2:30, “I will honor those who honor Me and I will disgrace those who treat Me lightly.”
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