Tag Archives: loving God

Learning to Love from God

“And Moshe said to his father-in-law, the people come to me to seek the Almighty.”

Exodus 18:15

Moshe had arranged for the people to come to him when they had questions. The prophet Shmuel, on the other hand, went to the people to deal with their needs. What can we learn from Shmuel about coming close to the Almighty?

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz comments that one’s closeness to the Almighty is dependent upon one’s love for other people. Shmuel’s going to the people showed that he had great love and concern for them.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from the Dvar Torah for Torah Portion Yitro
Published in Growth Through Torah
quoted at Aish.com

To what can this be compared?

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Mark 12:28-34 (NASB)

Rabbi Pliskin’s commentary continues:

Where did Shmuel get this great love other people? The Midrash says that the garment that his mother made for him when he was a child was with him his entire life. This garment, say Rabbi Shmuelevitz, was made with the profound love his mother had for him. This love became such a part of Shmuel that it manifested itself in his entire way of dealing with other people.

The love a mother shows her infants and young children by getting up in the middle of the night to take care of them implants in them a deep feeling of being loved. When such a child grows older he will have love for others. Any small thing a parent does with love for his children will pay off great dividends. The greater the child becomes the more many people will benefit from that love.

We learn to love other people because of the love shown to us by our Heavenly Father and by learning to love and draw close to Him. We also learn to love God by showing love to your spouses, our children, and anyone else around us, because God loves all those people, too.

Love is the fire in which Sinai burned and the fire in which Moses was with God. Love is the Spirit that dwells in each of us that comes from God.

God’s Name is One and So Are We

Standing before GodThe Piaczezner Rebbe, zt”l, learns an important lesson about chassidus from a statement on today’s daf. “Why should we have to discuss this at length when the Mishnah in Kareisos 25 states explicitly that—according to Rabbi Eliezer—one can bring an asham any day, at any time that he desires. This was called an ‘asham chassidim.’ This teaches us the mainstay of being a genuine chassid. Not only must one never believe that he only does good; he must also believe—in keeping with how his avodah should be due to the holiness of his soul—that his avodah is not so pure. He should feel at all times that he may well have transgressed a serious Torah prohibition which requires a sacrifice, chas v’shalom…”

But Rav Moshe, the son of Rav Nachman of Kossov, zt”l, taught a very different message from the next statement in the Mishnah: “The day after Yom Kippur is known as ‘God’s Name’—‘Gott’s Nomen’ in Yiddish. We can explain this in light of a statement in the Mishnah in Kareisos 25. There we find that Bava ben Buta would bring a voluntary korban asham every day except for the day after Yom Kippur. This teaches that on the day after Yom Kippur every Jew is an aspect of a tzaddik. In Bava Basra 75 we find that, in the ultimate future, the tzaddikim will be called by God’s Name, since they will be completely subsumed in Him. It follows that the day after Yom Kippur, when we should all be absolutely connected to God, is known as God’s Name.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“God’s Name”
Kereisos 25

Christianity has no event or commemoration that mirrors Yom Kippur. We justify this by saying that our sins (past, present, and future) have been forgiven once and for all by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. We don’t have to go before God’s altar once per year and “sacrifice Jesus” all over again. The idea of an annual confession of sins, repentance, and heart-felt dedication to do better in the coming year can be seen by some Christians as even insulting, and denying the grace of Christ.

I think this is a mistake.

I think Christians, as least some of us, can get kind of lazy about our sins. We can get this whole, “I’m forgiven by the blood of Jesus” attitude and eventually, it doesn’t matter what we say and do in our day to day lives. We’re “covered by the blood” so we’ll be OK in the end.

Won’t we?

I recall a similar attitude encountered by John the Baptist and his immediate response:

And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. –Matthew 3:9 (ESV)

Christians tend to disdain the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to be baptized by John (see verse 7) but are probably shocked to read that I am making an unfavorable comparison between us and them.

Maybe we need to be reminded that we’re not such “hot stuff” just because we’re “saved.” I keep saying this, but I think it needs to be repeated constantly for the sake of the brethren…that salvation is just the barest beginning of the journey, not its conclusion.

At the risk of making another inaccurate or erroneous connection between classic Jewish teachings and the Christian scriptures, when I read the “story off the daf” today, and particularly it’s conclusion, in addition to Yom Kippur, it reminded me of this:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. –Revelation 22:1-4 (ESV)

Let me make a couple more connections.

…bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name… –Isaiah 43:6-7 (ESV)

…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. –2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)

And Rav Moshe, the son of Rav Nachman of Kossov, zt”l, taught:

It follows that the day after Yom Kippur, when we should all be absolutely connected to God, is known as God’s Name.

Admittedly, except for the passage from John’s Revelation, the people being described as “called by God’s Name” are Jewish. However, I wonder if, by the grace and benefit of the Messianic covenant Jesus established with his own life, death, and life, that we who are the disciples among the nations may also “be called by His Name” though we are not part of the covenant of Sinai which is only reserved for the Hebrews? I believe we can.

Then while we in the church don’t have a “Yom Kippur” event (sadly), if we did, it might represent the day to come when we would be past sin and tears and death and the day when “His Name will be on our foreheads.”

Then the following might also apply:

It has been previously noted that it is not enough to intend to unify one’s own soul with G-d through the performance of Torah and mitzvot; one must also seek to unite the source of all the souls of Israel with the infinite Ein Sof-light.

Often, loving another is ultimately a result of self-love: a person loves that which is good for him. The same is true with regard to loving G-d and desiring to cleave to Him through the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot: the individual desires his own welfare, and that which will benefit his own soul — and there can be no better way of achieving this than by cleaving to G-d.

Likutei Amarim, middle of Chapter 41
from Today’s Tanya Lesson
By Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder of Chabad Chassidism
Elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg. Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg. Edited by Uri Kaploun.
Listen online at Chabad.org

Remember what I said in my previous morning meditation about how this compares to the two greatest commandments taught by the Master himself? We cannot love our neighbors as ourselves unless we love God, but in seeking to unify our souls with His Spirit, we must also seek to unify the souls of everyone created in His Image.

You might say that this is the heart of Christian evangelism, but it’s not that simple. I get a little nervous when I hear believers talk about “winning souls for Jesus” as if they were talking about buying a winning lottery ticket or adding to a “collectables” hobby. It’s like Evangelists only “win” when they add another body to a church pew, and then they drop the person like a hot rock and move on to the “next soul to save.”

I’m talking about how we behave, whether or not we have anything to gain or lose. God “saves souls.” We merely live lives that (ideally) are the reflection and the container for a Light far brighter than our own.

Loving God and being called by His Name is about recognizing that loving God is what’s best for us as individuals. In that sense, it’s purely selfish, which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. However, if we think it’s only about “You and me, Jesus,” then our vision of faith becomes extremely near-sighted. Once we realize that loving God is good for us, then we realize it’s good for others, and our goal becomes not just to establish and grow our relationship with Him, but to share that relationship with the world around us.

This is not done by passing out religious tracts or beating everyone over the head with Bible verses. This is much better done by really loving your neighbor as yourself. What do you do to love yourself? Probably, you take care of yourself (see Ephesians 5:25-33 ESV). You make sure you have adequate (or excessive) food, shelter, clothing, and companionship. If you love others as you love yourself as the means by which you love and cleave to God, then what should you actually do to be called by His Name?

It may seem odd for me to try and associate classic Jewish and Kabbalistic teachings with the lessons of Jesus and Paul, but I’ve recently compared a Trappist Monk and the Rebbe, so stranger things have happened.

In the end, God is One and His Word is One…and His Name is One. If we cleave to God, so are we, all of us, no matter how different we are from each other.

“Infinite diversity in infinite combination.” -Spock

Love is a Commandment

Today’s daf discusses the halachos of one who gives a gift. The great importance of gratitude cannot be overemphasized. Rabbeinu Bachaya famously writes that one who fails to appreciate what others have done for him—using some trite excuse to explain away this lapse—will also lose appreciation for all the gifts that God bestows on us at all times. In Kelm people knew how to show their gratitude. It was normal to show one’s appreciation to the children of one who had been of assistance. Some had developed their hakaras hatov to such an extent that they even expressed their gratitude to the grandchildren of the one who had helped them.

An interesting question arose regarding such demonstrations. A certain Jew was in a far-flung town during the terrible years of the Holocaust. He knew that he had no chance alone, so he begged a non- Jewish friend to hide him. His friend did not let him down despite the danger of hiding a Jew, and that could lead to an immediate death sentence for interfering with the Nazi war effort.

After the war, this Jew went to Israel and was very successful in business. He always sent a large amount of money back to Europe to help his non-Jewish friend, who was not very well off. After some time, this man passed away, and the Jew wondered whether he was permitted to continue sending money to the non-Jew’s children. After all, although they hadn’t really helped him they were the progeny of the man who had saved his life. Don’t we find in the Torah that the descendants of Amon and Moav should have given Yisrael bread and water as an expression of kindness to Avraham through whose merits Lot’s life was sav? Yet, in general, it is forbidden to give a non-Jew a gift due to the prohibition…It was not as though the children would have a claim against him, since he had always helped their father. Yet he wished to continue giving to them if he could.

When this question reached Rav Nissin Karelitz, shlit”a, he ruled decisively.
“When a person feels gratitude to someone—or his descendants—there is no problem…it is only if he wished to give a gift not due to hakaras hatov that this prohibition applies.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Gift of Gratitude”
Kereisos 24

This is a strange story from a Christian (or a secular Gentile) point of view. Of course, we can understand that the Jewish person whose life had been saved by the non-Jew, should want to show gratitude toward the person who helped him at the risk of his own life. We can see that it was incredibly generous of the Jewish person to continue to provide financial gifts to his benefactor years and even decades after the end of the Holocaust. We might even be able to understand the desire to do something good for the children of the Gentile benefactor as a further act of gratitude and compassion for what their father did.

But is it an obligation?

Most Christians are well versed in the concept that the Law of the Jews was replaced by the Grace of Christ, to the degree that Christians have virtually none of the obligations that God assigned the Children of Israel at Mt. Sinai. However, a careful study of the teachings of Jesus will reveal that every lesson he taught to his disciples and the multitudes that followed him was based in the Torah and the Prophets.

As Christians, we understand that we should show our gratitude to others, sometimes in a tangible way, but for us, it’s a “nice thing to do” rather than a commandment or an obligation. But given everything I’ve just said, are we seeing this picture correctly?

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. –Mark 12:28-34 (ESV)

In the two greatest commandments, we see a couple of things and they may not be apparent to you. The first, which I hope is obvious, is that we are indeed commanded to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Jesus is directly quoting from Leviticus 19:18 in this part of his teaching:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

So we understand in this instance that because the Master included this portion of Torah in what he taught and because he gave a mandate that all of the Gentile disciples should be taught to obey his teachings (Matthew 28:18-20), that this is a part of Torah (the Law) that translates into a commandment for Christians.

When you love your neighbor, you express it. When your neighbor (Jew or Gentile) does something outstandingly good to you, you return that goodness in kind, not just because it’s polite, or nice, or the right thing to do, but because God expects it of us.

The other thing we see in Christ’s teaching is that he directly links loving your neighbor as yourself with “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” which is we also find in the Torah. (Deuteronomy 6:5 – ESV)

We Christians aren’t just supposed to love God, we are commanded to do so. Not only that, but we are commanded to love our neighbor. It’s an obligation. And on top of all of that, the two commandments are so linked that if you don’t love your neighbor as yourself, then you cannot possibly love God.

Did everyone get that?

I’m not dumping the entire body of the 613 commandments onto the Christian church and the body of non-Jewish believers in Jesus, but I am saying what seems to be self evident. Once you accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior and Master, what happens next isn’t optional. Once you get your train ticket to Heaven punched by the conductor, your journey isn’t over. Being “saved” isn’t the end, it’s barely the beginning.

I know that living a moral and ethical Christian life, especially in terms of actual behavior (as opposed to an abstract and completely internal “belief” in Christ) doesn’t sound like the “grace” we’re taught in Sunday school or from the pulpit, but I can’t read the Bible any other way.

Once you realize that God expects that you love your neighbor, you’re supposed to do something about it. Otherwise, it isn’t love. Otherwise it isn’t love that you “feel” for God. If you have gratitude to God for saving your life and sparing you the consequences of your sins, show that gratitude to others and even to their children and grandchildren.

Love is an obligation. The struggle, not to feel love but to do love, is a battle. And you dare not fail to win the battle. If you do, how can you say that you love God? How can you win the war, not only for all those souls created in God’s image, but for your very own? How can you say you contain the light of God and that your soul cleaves to Him?

The Alter Rebbe had stated earlier that a person’s intention while performing Torah and mitzvot should be that his soul cleave to G-d.

He now goes on to say that a Jew’s spiritual service also includes the goal of becoming one with all the Jewish people. For this reason his intentions should not be limited to having his own soul cleave to G-d, but also that the source of his soul and the source of all the souls of Israel cleave to Him.

By doing so the individual brings about the union (yichud) of the higher and lower levels of G-dliness known respectively as Kudsha Brich Hu (“the Holy One, blessed be He”) and His Shechinah (“the Divine Presence”), for the former is the source of Torah and mitzvot and the latter is the source of all Jewish souls.

This explains the concluding phrase of the formula recited before the performance of certain mitzvot: “For the sake of the union of Kudsha Brich Hu with His Shechinah…in the name of all Israel.” As the Rebbe notes: “In the name of all Israel” implies that the union achieved through the performance of the mitzvah is for the sake of, and in the name of, all of Israel. For it is with the Shechinah that Kudsha Brich Hu is united and the Shechinah is the source of all Jewish souls.

Likutei Amarim, middle of Chapter 41
from Today’s Tanya Lesson
By Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder of Chabad Chassidism
Elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg. Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg. Edited by Uri Kaploun.
Listen online at Chabad.org

To extend this particular lesson somewhat, in performing the mitzvot or the commandments of God as Christians, our souls are also cleaving to God and to all of His other creations.