Love of G-d, Pt. 2

Dear Rabbi Fried,

In your previous article, “Love of G-d,” you mentioned: “The more we give of ourselves to Him, the more we will feel connected & become as one.” Please expound on that idea – how do we give of ourselves to G-d?

Sabrena

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Dear Sabrena,

The easy answer to your question would simply be to perform the mitzvos of the Torah. Every time you do a mitzvah, you’ve given something yourself to G-d. This, however, would not truly answer the question. One could theoretically fulfill mitzvos throughout the day and still not feel connected to G-d and remain distant from feeling love for Him.

The Rabbis say “Rachmana Liba Ba’oy,” “the Merciful One wants the heart.” This does not mean, as some would interpret it, that it’s sufficient to be a “Jew in the heart.” (We rabbis call that a “Jewish heart condition”)

What the Rabbis clearly mean is that when one performs a mitzvah, it should be done with one’s full concentration, with the heart. Although the purely mechanical performance of a mitzvah is, technically, a mitzvah, that’s only according to the letter of the law. It’s still missing the spirit of the law. 

The connection to G-d through a mitzvah comes about when you put your heart into it. 

A deeper understanding of this is that our real “self” is not our physical bodies. Our souls are our real selves. The soul needs to partner with the body to find expression in this world, to fulfill its mission. To fulfill a mitzvah mechanically would only involve the body. When you perform a mitzvah from the heart you’re involving the soul. 

To give “of yourself” to G-d, therefore, is to perform His will with heart and soul, elevating the mechanical action of the mitzvah to the sublime. Each time you give and invest of yourself in this way, you forge a deeper connection with G-d, creating the bonds of love. 

A higher level of this connection comes with an even greater form of giving. This is living a life in which everything you do is a service of G-d. A friend of mine, formerly a secular professor of philosophy, became a Chassidic Jew and one of today’s Jewish world-renowned speakers and scholars. 

Before leaving Boston University for his present position in Israel, he asked many of his fellow professors to describe the holiest person they knew. Some of them mentioned men who had the ability to swindle millions of dollars in business in ways they could have never been caught, but didn’t do so because it wasn’t right. 

My friend exclaimed, “although that is very praiseworthy, that’s the holiest person they could come up with?! Could they even imagine his rebbe, the holy Bostoner Rebbe, who doesn’t even move a finger until he’s ascertained that it’s G-d’s will?!”

The message is that all that we do in life, even the most mundane activities, can be elevated to the category of a mitzvah. Our jobs, eating, married life, even our vacations and fun can all be elevated to be a service of G-d! 

If one works to provide a livelihood for himself and his family, and to have the means to give tzedakah and help others, all the hours spent working are a mitzvah. If one eats to have the strength to study Torah and perform mitzvos, the act of eating becomes a mitzvah. If one marries in order to build a Torah home, fulfill the laws of marriage, bring Jewish children into the world and perform kindnesses to his or her spouse, the entire institution of marriage, including intimate marital relations, are no less of a mitzvah than giving tzedakah, fasting on Yom Kippur or donning tefillin!

It’s a question of attitude and where our hearts are. When we fuse our hearts, souls and giving to G-d in everything we do, then we have a constant love relationship with Him. 

A Chasid once made a very long and difficult trip to visit his rebbe. When he arrived, the rebbe asked him why he came. He replied that he came to find G-d. The rebbe told him, if so, then you can go back home. He is right in your heart!

Every time you give tzedakah, help another Jew, light Shabbos candles or pray, think about what you are doing, Who commanded you to do it, and perform the act from the heart. As time goes on, you will begin to see yourself in those actions, since you’ve invested yourself in them. Little by little you’ll see the connection growing, leading to a relationship of love. 

This is the meaning of the Shema, “You should love the Lord, God with all your heart, soul and might.”

Sincerely,

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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