3.20 - Acquiring Love of God; Divine Assistance; Impediments
Acquiring Love of God (Based on Chovos HaLevavos - Shaar Ahavas Hashem chapter 3)
There are a number of requirements that must be met before one can achieve love of God. A person must first fulfill two types of devotion, two types of humility, two types of accounting and two types of investigation.
The two types of devotion are acknowledging God's unity and dedicating all of one's actions to His service. The two types of humility are before God and before God-fearing and pious people. The two types of accounting are within one's self for how much he owes to God and how God overlooks his transgressions and forgives him. The two types of investigation are looking at antiquity as recorded in the Books of the Prophets and looking into the wonders of God's creation.
When a person has mastered all of these prerequisites and learned to abstain from worldly pleasures, when he understands God's greatness and his own insignificance, and when he realizes how many favors God performs for him, then love of God will follow. He will yearn for God will all his heart, as is described in such verses as "My soul thirsts for You" (Psalms 63:2) and "My soul yearns for you at night" (Isaiah 26:9).
The way to reach this level is through complete awe and reverence for God and His commandments, and remembering at all times that He observes both the revealed and the concealed, He guides us and has mercy on us, He knows our past and future thoughts and deeds, and He draws us close to Him. With all this in mind, one's heart will be drawn to God and one will cling to His love.
When this happens, one will not confuse love of anything else and one will not fear anything but Him. Then God will constantly occupy one's thoughts. He will be one's companion even when one is all alone, and even a crowd of people won't seem like a crowd. One will not be depressed when in solitude because he will be too busy rejoicing in God. Verses that describe this include Psalms 64:11, "The righteous will rejoice in God and take refuge in Him."
Human Limits and Divine Assistance (Chapter 4)
Can a person truly achieve love of God? It depends. There are three kinds of love. In one, a person is willing to part with his money. In another, one is willing to invest both his money and his body but he intends to keep his soul. In the third, one is even willing to part with his soul.
We see that Abraham epitomized all three types of love. Since he kept not so much as a shoelace from the spoils of war (Genesis chapter 14), we see that wealth was unimportant to him. From the fact that he did not hesitate to circumcise himself (Genesis 17), we see that he did not withhold his body in the service of God. From the incident with the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22), we see that Abraham was committed to the extent of his very soul.
Willingness to part with one's soul is the highest degree of love and, admittedly, not everyone is capable of achieving this level as it goes against the natural instinct for self-preservation. It manifests in certain exceptional individuals when God strengthens their resolve. This is a reward for those who have already invested themselves wholeheartedly into devoted service to Him. The first two kinds of love, however, are possible for most people to achieve, provided that they work on mastering the prerequisites we have discussed.
Proof that the first two kinds of love are signs of one’s devotion to God can be seen in the Book of Job. In the first chapter of that Book, the Satan (“the accuser”) alleged that Job was only dedicated to God because God had blessed him with material wealth. In response to this, God gave the Satan permission to impoverish Job, in order to test him. When Job lost everything, he famously responded by saying, “I came into this world with nothing and that’s how I will leave it. God gave and God took away; blessed be the Name of God” (Job 1:21).
When Job’s attitude did not change, the Satan next accused that he would lose his faith if he were to suffer physically. God once again gave the Satan permission to proceed and Job again bore his suffering with reverence to God. When Job’s wife suggested that he speak against God, he replied, “Should we accept the good from God but not the bad?” (Job 2:10).
Accepting God’s judgment in these two ways made his devotion to God clear to anyone who might have doubted it. (As far as the third type, Job said to one of his friends, “Even if He would kill me, I would trust in Him” – Job 13:15.)
If a person loves God in hopes of receiving a reward or out of fear of punishment, God will strengthen his resolve so that he can achieve a purer state of love for Him. In such a state, one’s motivation will be to praise God and nothing else. Regarding this process, God says, “I love those who love Me; those who seek Me will find Me” (Proverbs 8:17). Conversely, “one who shuns Me damages himself” (Proverbs 8:36).
Impediments to Loving God (Chapter 5)
In addition to the various impediments to the service of God listed earlier in Chovos HaLevavos (see our summary of Shaar HaBechinah chapter 6), there is an additional impediment to loving God: hating those whom He loves and loving those whom He hates. Many verses address this fault, including:
· “Would you help evil people and love those who hate God?” (II Chronicles 9:2);
· “Those who treat the evil as righteous…” (Isaiah 5:23);
· “To treat the evil as righteous and the righteous as evil…” (Proverbs 17:15);
· “Those who forsake the Torah praise the evil…” (Proverbs 28:4);
· “One who tells an evil person, ‘You are righteous…’” (Proverbs 24:24).
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