July 21st, 2018


Love is my Religion

Rabbi David Aaron

By Rabbi David Aaron

Published August 26, 2016

Love is my Religion

“Now, Israel, what is it that the Lord your G-d requests of you, only to revere the Lord your G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him and serve the Lord your G-d with all your heart and soul.”

                       — Deuteronomy 10:12

I often hear people say that Judaism is a religion of law but not of love. They claim that it is more about fearing G-d and feeling guilty rather than loving G-d and feeling joy. They conclude that it leads us to a life of weakness and submission and robs us of our power and freedom to be our true selves.

This is what the famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche believed. He taught that there are two types of people in the world: the weak and the strong. The strong do what they want, when they want and where they want. But the weak are frightened. Therefore, to protect themselves, they invented morality to make the strong feel guilty about their freedom and strength. According to Nietzsche the weak ones are the Jews. They are the inventors of morality and they are responsible for the phenomena of guilt in the world.

Judaism, however, is quite the opposite of these misconceptions. Judaism is the true religion of love. It is founded upon love and its purpose is love. Its teachings encourage us to be strong and its laws empower us to achieve true freedom, choose love and experience the ecstatic joy of being in love.

Nietzsche once said, "If there were a G-d, how could I bear not being G-d?" Judaism teaches that we can achieve something much more fulfilling than being G-d and that is: loving G-d. The teachings, laws and rituals of Judaism enable us to achieve this goal. They lead us to love G-d and by doing so empower us to be godly.

In fact, Judaism can best be described as the art of being in love.

There are very few who understand that revering G-d is the meager, yet necessary prerequisite in order for G-d to safely and completely share Himself and His power with humanity. Imagine the dangers of Godly status in the hands of the irreverent. Reverence is the essential condition for all relationships of intense love. The closer you come to people and intimately share yourself with them, the more you need to be sure that they respect and revere the distinction that still distinguishes you as other than them. Otherwise, this profound state of identification can lead to dangerous assumptions and abuse. Your beloved may over step his/her boundaries by thinking "your will and my will are one and the same." This is what the Talmud means when it warns: "Love damages borders" (1)

The Hebrew word for "reverence" is yira. This word is also related to the verb "to see." What is the connection between seeing and revering? People often wonder, "Why can't I see G-d?" Generally, the assumed answer is that G-d is too far. However, this is not so. The real reason that we cannot see G-d is because He is too close. In fact, our ultimate struggle is to establish and maintain a healthy sense of distance from G-d, lest our profoundly close and intimate identification with the Divine lead to dangerous and reckless misconceptions and transgression of borders. To revere G-d really means: seeing clearly the boundaries that distinguish us from G-d and, thereby, recognizing who we are relative to Him.

This is the same sort of distance that is essential in human relationships. The distance we maintain between our selves and our beloved creates the necessary space for meeting. Meeting and love can only happen within the context of space — only then can love happen in a genuine way without destroying borders. The clarity yira provides is the essential safeguard against transgression. This is its sole purpose.

However, this understanding of yira is unfortunately unknown to the masses and sometimes even to their religious leaders. Too often, people assume that yira is fear and meant to be a form of Divine threat in order to weaken humanity. Many may accept this approach as good and right. However, others simply conclude that yira is a gross and unhealthy torment, causing only senseless guilt and leading to neurotic behavior. The distorted understanding of yira as "threat" causes people to view G-d as vengeful and frightening — that G-d is out to get them. This attitude often leads to denial of the existence of G-d or the pursuit of religious philosophies that stress transcendence and loss of self into the One.

Moses teaches:(2)

Now, Israel, what is it that the Lord your G-d requests of you, only to revere the Lord your G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him and serve the Lord your G-d with all your heart and soul.

The Talmud(3) deduces from this verse the following principle:

"All is in the hands of heaven except the reverence for heaven."

It is strange that the Talmud does not say 'except the reverence and love of heaven' since Moses also mentions, "and to love G-d." Why is only reverence in our hands?

According to Jewish tradition love is the natural condition of our beings. We feel a natural thirst for G-d and sense of identification with G-d. Our real challenge is yira, to step back from the Divine, acknowledge and clearly see the borders that distinguish us as other than G-d. The stepping back and self-withdrawal implicit in yira creates the space for the love. This reflects the process of tzimtzum (self withdrawal) performed by G-d in order to create the world.

The ability to see the borders and revere G-d is a great gift from G-d. Without it we could not experience true love. Therefore, the Talmud(4) states: "G-d has in His hidden vault only a treasury of yira."

King Solomon in Ecclesiastes(5) teaches: "G-d made it as such so that man would revere Him".

The Talmud (6) explains this to means: "G-d only created this world in order that man could revere Him."

The Hebrew word for "world" is Olam. This word is also related to the verb meaning "to conceal." What is the connection? The Kabbalah teaches that there are four worlds or dimensions. Each world, in descending order, is an increased degree of concealment, hiding G-d all pervasive oneness.

In this lower world, G-d's oneness is concealed the most; allowing us to mistakenly think that we are independent beings, separate of G-d. However, the purpose of this concealment of G-d's oneness is in order to allow for the emergence of borders and human self-consciousness as being other than G-d. This is essential for the ultimate revelation of the underlying oneness of love. Only then can we experience ourselves as distinct beings. Without the olam and the graduating degrees of concealment, our sense of distinct self and personal boundaries would be obliterated by the intensity of G-d's presence. Therefore, G-d created this world only to allow us the possibility for getting perspective on who we are relative to G-d, so that we can revere G-d and not transgress the boundaries between us and Him. However, all this is for the sake of love.

Imagine how horrible all this talk about reverence would sound to a person who did not know that G-d lovingly desires to empower humanity and share Himself. G-d's mere request of us is that we revere G-d so that His incredible gift of love will not be abused. Yira — seeing the boundaries and fearing transgression — is the essential prerequisite before we can experience the awesome love of our Ulti-Mate Soul-Mate — G-d.

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(1) Sanhedrin 105b

(2) Deut. 10:12

(3) Talmud, Berachos 33b

(4) Talmud, Berachos 33b

(5) Ecclesiastes 3:14

(6) Talmud, Berachos 33b

For more on this topic see "The Secret Life of G-d: Discovering the Divine within you"

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JWR contributor Rabbi David Aaron is the founder and dean of Isralight, an international organization with programming in Israel, New York South Florida, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto. He has taught and inspired thousands of Jews who are seeking meaning in their lives and a positive connection to their Jewish roots.

He is the author of, most recently, Inviting G0D In, The Secret Life of G0D, and Endless Light: The Ancient Path of Kabbalah to Love, Spiritual Growth and Personal Power , Seeing G0D and Love is my religion. (Click on links to purchase books. Sales help fund JWR.) He lives in the old City of Jerusalem with his wife and their seven children.