3.18 Love of God
Based on Chovos HaLevavos - Shaar Ahavas Hashem
Love of God is the highest level attainable by those who are devoted to the service of God, and all the traits and qualities detailed throughout Chovos HaLevavos – both those we have summarized here and those we have not – are steps towards achieving this this goal. There is nothing beyond it to which one might aspire. Accordingly, Scripture frequently juxtaposes “fear” of God (meaning awe or reverence) with love of Him, as in “Now, Israel, what does Hashem your God ask of you but to fear Him…and to love Him” (Deuteronomy 10:12) and “Hashem your God you shall fear…and to Him you shall cling” (Deuteronomy 10:20). Reverence invariably comes first in such verses because holding God in the proper awe is a necessary prerequisite for coming to love Him.
What is Love of God? (Chapter 1)
Loving God means that one’s very soul longs to connect with His lofty light. The soul is a spiritual creation; as such, it is attracted to spiritual things and repelled by the physical. When God connected the body and the soul, it was a test for the soul but the soul was also charged with taking care of the body. When the soul senses that something is good for the body, it is attracted to it because it desires to be free of physical afflictions. Similarly, if the soul senses that something will spiritually enlighten it, it longs for it. This is its pure love. However, the body wants and needs a lot of things. It’s very demanding, so the soul doesn’t have the luxury of pursuing the spiritual. Taking care of the body is a full-time job, so the soul becomes separated from the enlightening spirituality for which it longs.
When a soul perceives that it has been neglecting its spiritual needs in favor of the mundane, it will alter its course of action. It will start to trust its physical needs to God and work on getting out of the rut into which it has fallen. It will reject the pleasures of the material world and stop giving in to the body’s desires. When this happens, the soul’s metaphorical eyes will be opened and the cloud of ignorance that has been obscuring its vision will dissipate. The soul will once again be able to distinguish between truth and falsehood, and it will be able to perceive God’s true nature.
At first, the soul will experience fear in the face of God’s greatness. This will remain the case until God reassures the soul, after which it will start the process of loving God, by devoting itself to Him, relying upon Him, longing for Him, serving Him and reflecting on Him. It will only move the body or cause it to speak with the purpose of serving God, thanking Him and praising Him.
When God grants favor to a person whose soul is in such a state, he will be grateful. If God should afflict this person, he will increase his love of and trust in Him. This is what Job meant when he said, “He may kill me but I will wait for Him” (Job 13:15). Similarly, King Solomon wrote, “My beloved is to me like a bag of myrrh that lies between my breasts” (Shir HaShirim 1:13). The Sages allegorically interpreted this to mean “Even though my Beloved sends me trouble and bitterness, He rests between my breasts” (Shabbos 88b). [The words “tzror hamor” – “a bag of myrrh” – are related to the words “tzar” – “trouble” and “mar” – bitter.”] The Torah itself commands us this in Deuteronomy 6:5, recited as part of the Shema, “You shall love Hashem your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.”