Ahavas Hashem is one of the six constant mitzvos. It is an
obligation upon every Jew, all the time. In addition we have
the additional mitzvah of Krias Shema which includes
as a prominent feature, in its third verse, the mention of
this obligation twice a day: in the morning and in the
evening. We begin and end each day with a recitation of the
mitzvah that we have to love Hashem.
The Rambam gives explicit directions for fulfilling this
Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah (II:2): "And how is the way to
love of Him? When one contemplates His deeds and His great
and wondrous creatures, and one sees from these the wisdom of
G-d — that it is immeasurable and unbounded —
immediately (miyad), he loves and praises and
glorifies and has a huge desire to know Hashem
Hagodol, "the great name."
The Rambam says that right after this one will immediately
also shrink backward and fear G-d, after realizing what a
small creature he himself is.
The Rambam continues (II:3): "In accordance with all this, I
will explain important generalizations [taken] from the deeds
of the Master of all Worlds, so that they can serve as an
introduction for one who tries to understand to love
Following this the Rambam lays out a general classification
of the world as a hierarchy composed of 1] forms with matter,
2] forms with a special eternal matter, and 3] forms without
These three classes are then discussed by the Rambam in
reverse order: first a discussion of forms without any matter
including an introduction to angels and remarks about the way
that Hashem knows things, followed by a discussion of the
heavenly bodies which are the bodies composed of forms with a
special, eternal matter, followed by a discussion of the
earthly bodies and some concluding remarks.
The Rambam was one of our greatest Rishonim and he was
particularly expert in the relationship that we should have
with Hashem. Thus there can be no question that thinking
about these things that the Rambam said to think about,
actually brought him and those of his generation to ahavas
What about ourselves?
Much of what the Rambam says in these three chapters of
Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah was part of the generally
accepted view of the universe that was common in the whole
world in the time of the Rambam. It was shared by Moslems,
and Christians, and even by anti-religious philosophers of
However it is no longer commonly held in our day. This view
of the world is regarded as quaint and archaic, or even as
false, by many people in our times.
However it seems that people are too quick to ascribe the
general feelings that they have towards medieval science to
what the Rambam quotes in Mishneh Torah. Even the
short summary that we have cited makes it clear that much of
the material that the Rambam cites as bringing to ahavas
Hashem has merely been pushed away by modern science. It
was abandoned but not disproved.
Science decided that angels, for example, in all their
variations, were simply not part of its field of interest. It
has not shown that there are no angels; it simply decided to
ignore them since they are not beings that are knowable
through empirical means. As beings made up of pure form, they
are forever inaccessible to all of the means of matter. None
of the physical senses will be able to discover anything
about them — or even whether they exist altogether.
They are beyond empirical techniques.
Science has limited its field of interest to empirical
knowledge, the knowledge that can be attained through the
senses. Angels fall completely outside of this field, so
science has nothing to say about them.
In the Rambam (and in his day) no distinction is made between
what can be discerned by the senses and what cannot. In fact
most of what the Rambam cites in chapters 2-4 of Hilchos
Yesodei Hatorah is knowledge that is completely non
empirical, even when the subject is the material parts of the
world. That is, even when the Rambam is talking about the
"ordinary middle-sized dry goods" that make up most of the
world, he does not make statements about them that are
For example, the thesis (chapter 4) that all creatures in our
world are made up of combinations of the four basic forms in
matter — earth, air, fire, water — is not
something that was discovered through empirical
experimentation nor does it make empirical predictions about
what will happen in the sense that modern theories do. We
cannot describe an experiment that will show whether this
thesis is true or false.
The Rambam even says explicitly that his analysis is
completely nonempirical (4:7): "You will never see matter
without a form nor form without matter. Rather, the heart of
man analyzes an existing body in his mind and knows that it
is composed of matter and form. And [it] knows that there are
bodies whose matter is composed of the four elements, and
bodies whose matter is simple and is composed of only one
matter. And the forms that have no matter [i.e. the angels]
are not visible to the eye, but they are known to the eye of
the heart. Just as the Master of All knows without seeing
with an eye."
Clearly the very terms of discourse are extremely and
assertedly nonempirical, and certainly the things that there
are to say about them will likewise not be empirical. In
particular, for example, one cannot expect to be able to use
this analysis to predict the acceleration of gravity, or the
behavior of water at its freezing point or any of the myriad
of other things that modern science can tell us.
The entire system is thoroughly nonempirical and should not
really be seen as competition for modern science.
It is worth noting that this analysis of the bodies of the
world into bodies composed of four ultimate elements, is
found in the Zohar (for example Bereishis 42b,
Shemos 24a, Tikkunei Zohar, Sefer Yetzirah) and is
generally accepted among all later Torah authorities.
Modern science tends to regard the view of the world that was
common in the days of the Rambam as having been shown to be
false. Many modern non-scientists — including a
possibly surprising number from the chareidi community
— also assume that it has all shown to be false, and
some ignore these three chapters of Hilchos Yesodei
Hatorah under the impression that it has all been
But where does that leave us?
First of all, if we accept that approach, we have to explain
why studying a pile of statements that are nothing more than
"disproven superstition" or at best "a veil of
unsubstantiated beliefs" as they are characterized by modern
people, could in fact have led the Rambam and others of his
generation to real ahavas Hashem. Those who think that
the Rambam merely quoted the accepted wisdom of his day on
the authority of the physical scientists of his time—
which has since been proven to be false — must explain
how it could have brought such great people as the Rambam to
true ahavas Hashem if it is so worthless. We are
arguing that these ideas were merely abandoned by modern
thought as it pursued the empirical ever more
enthusiastically, so that is not a problem for us. But if
someone thinks — as many do - - that it has been
disproven, then there is a serious problem to explain how it
is that something that was shown to be false could have led
to true ahavas Hashem.
This is truly, for such a position, a schwere
I would pose what I think is an even more embarrassing
conundrum for them.
What about someone today who studies these chapters of the
Rambam seriously? Would he be brought to true ahavas
This material has not become less true than it was in the
days of the Rambam. The reality has certainly not changed in
any relevant way. At most it is our perception of the reality
that has changed. Therefore, if one were to study this
material seriously, there is every reason to think that it
would be as effective in leading the modern student to
ahavas Hashem as it was for the medieval student.
But perhaps we can remove much of the difficulty about this
for all modern students if we review the Rambam carefully.
It is useful to divide the material that the Rambam discusses
as bringing one to ahavas Hashem into one part that
may be viewed as competitive with modern science (such as
statements about the visible heavenly bodies and about
physical earthly elements), and other material that is
totally removed from the considerations of modern science
such as statements about angels and the human soul. The first
group talks about bodies that can be studied empirically
(even though we have argued that it makes nonempirical
statements about them). The second group talks about things
which are by their nature already totally removed from the
realm of the empirical, and certainly we cannot make
empirical statements about them. The majority is of the
The second chapter of Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah is all
about angels (creatures with form and no matter whatsoever)
and Hashem's relationship with His creation and His knowledge
of the creation.
The third chapter discusses the heavenly bodies. Much of this
chapter could be regarded as competitive with modern
astronomy and physics, although about a third of it discusses
the knowledge and soul of these entities, something that
modern science stays away from.
About two-thirds of the fourth chapter discusses the earthly
bodies and their elements. As we noted these are non-
empirical statements, but most modern scientists would regard
them as competitive with modern science. Nonetheless, the
final third of that chapter discusses the soul, a subject
that is certainly beyond the ken of modern science.
Of these three chapters, more than half covers material that
is out of modern scientific bounds. A scientist may not want
to study them, but a religious person with the obligation to
love Hashem should not have any problem.
It is precisely these elements that are cited by the Rambam
in summarizing what brings to ahavas Hashem in
Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 4:12 at the end of his
presentation: "When one contemplates these things and
understands the creatures, from angels to the heavenly
spheres to man, and the like, and he will see the wisdom of
Hakodosh Boruch Hu in all the creatures and in all
things formed, he increases love for the Mokom and his
soul will thirst and his flesh long from love of the
Mokom, boruch Hu. . . . (From the context, when the
Rambam says "man" I think that it is clear that he is
referring here to man's soul and not to his body. There are
no specific references to the human body in these
In recent generations, the emphasis in the botei
medrash has been the human soul, as knowledge of it has
been developed in mussar works and commonly studied
hashkafic works such as those of the Ramchal.
The Kiryas Sefer on Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah chapter 2,
mitzvah 3 (the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem) says: "This
mitzvah includes that we should call other people to His
service and to believe in Him, and this is because if you
love your fellow you will speak in praise of him and call
upon other people to love him. By analogy it is the same when
we love Him, yis'aleh, and when we grasp His truth we
will without a doubt call upon the simple and foolish ones to
know this truth that we know. The Sifrei says,
Ve'ohavto — make Him beloved to all creatures,
as did Avrohom your father, as it says, " . . . the souls
that they had made in Choron" (Bereishis 12:5) —
referring to those they had enlightened as to the truth of
Hashem. Avrohom did this as a result of the fact that he was
a lover of Hashem, as it says, "Avrohom who loves me"
Thus, the emphasis placed in recent times on kiruv is
also closely related to ahavas Hashem or should be. A
person who is involved in kiruv should arouse his or
her ahavas Hashem before reaching out to people, and
even before planning reachout activities.
The love that is between Klal Yisroel and Hashem is
mentioned 17 times in sefer Devorim, including the
main mitzvah of, "Ve'ohavto es Hashem Elokecho, which
we mention thrice daily. It is worthy of more effort.