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20 Av 5765 - August 25, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Ahavoh and Emunoh -- Comparisons and Differences. And What is the Way to Love of Him?

by Mordecai Plaut

Part II

The first part discussed the basic difference between ahavoh and emunoh: the latter is an internal action that does not require the object. One can believe in something even if that thing is not present. Love, on the other hand, is a relationship that requires the presence of a beloved object. We can acquire emunoh, belief in Hashem, with evidence indicating that He exists, but we cannot develop love of Him without some direct way to reach Him. The Rambam gives us instructions for searching for Him: learn about exalted spiritual beings, including angels and the human soul. When you are exposed to these great and wondrous spiritual creatures, you will realize that their Creator is even greater and more wondrous. The Rambam goes on to cite other aspects of the Creation that he considers suitable to arouse love of Hashem. In my opinion, all of what the Rambam cites has never been disproved but rather abandoned by modern science as being beyond empirical methods. Science has nothing to say about angels and souls, and never will have anything to say.


In the time of the Rambam, these matters were considered part areas of interest for a typical scientific researcher. The scientists of our day in fact see themselves as the heirs of those researchers. But it should be clear that none of the statements in these matters was ever disproved or even could be disproved by empirical science. It was all just shoved aside as being outside the area of competence of modern science whose interest is self-limited -- strictly, arrogantly, and with false and somewhat silly pride -- to the sensible (i.e. accessible to the senses) world. Anything that is not fully sensible is elbowed aside with, in some unfortunate cases, a disdain that has no foundation. (Of course, it is well-known that there are many modern scientists who are fully religiously observant.) Modern science tends to look down its nose at those matters which are outside its self-limited area of competence, for example refusing -- or trying to refuse -- to allow them to be taught in the same classrooms.

Nonetheless, many gedolim vetovim of our day said as follows: Our Master the Rambam looked among the findings of the science of his day, and he cited those findings as a means to acquire love of Hashem Yisborach. However that knowledge, which was considered the highest achievement in his day, is not considered to be of value in our day. Let us look among the findings of the science of our day in order to allow people of our day to acquire love of Hashem Yisborach.

They looked and they found. For example, the wonderful systems of the human body, which are designed and constructed with what we can now appreciate as stunning wisdom and amazing coordination between the desired results and the means available in each case. Such as the eye, which can see so much and with such precision, even though it is mounted on a platform that walks, moves and swivels in all directions from instant to instant. The eye can see a constantly changing scene, and the person can grasp what is seen. The coordination between the eye and the associated brain that we find in nature is also amazing. The human brain can process the information supplied by the human eye, and the ant brain, for example, can process the information supplied by the ant eye -- even though there are ants whose eyes have around a thousand different lenses instead of the one that we have. Truly mafli la'asos!

Or, for example, the wonderful properties of water that are unique among materials in the world -- yet without them life would probably be impossible on the Earth. Or the forces of nature (gravity and atomic forces) -- if they were a little bit stronger or weaker, nothing would work. Without a doubt: mafli la'asos!

This is what the gedolim vetovim of our day have found (and much more along these lines).

However, in my opinion, there is a profound confusion here between belief in Hashem (emunoh) and love of Hashem. These people went to look for love of Hashem -- ahavas Hashem -- and they found belief in His existence. But they did not find Him, Himself, to love.

All these wonderful and true and complex and beautiful insights and knowledge are all just an elaboration of nothing more than what is in the final analysis the properties of blotte -- mud. It is all knowledge of the lowly matter of our material world. It is all true wisdom and it is all truly wisdom, but it is wisdom that is embedded in mud. In principle, it does not matter whether the mud is mixed with flecks of gold that glistens, or if it is mixed with stinking garbage. The matrix and outer garment of all of this amazing and very useful knowledge of modern science is the matter of Olom Hazeh.

Without any doubt, the source of all this wisdom is the Creator of the World. But the light of the Creator traveled very far from its source before it could become embedded in the coarse matter of our world.

When we see and understand this wisdom, it shows us conclusively that there is a Creator. All these systems cannot be the product of blind chance. If we see in every nook and cranny of the mud such wonderful things, we know that it was all designed by a Designer and did not just happen to be. Mud cannot make even more mud -- and can certainly not make vegetable, animal, and humanity.

This insight, especially when it is accompanied by a deep and comprehensive recognition of the wisdom that is embedded in flesh, is very moving. But this feeling is the feeling that is produced by a deepening of emunoh, a fuller and deeper awareness of the existence of the Creator of the world, and has nothing whatsoever to do with love of Him. Period.

Love is a feeling, or at least certainly includes a feeling. But not all feeling is love.

We said earlier that in order to love Hakodosh Boruch Hu we need to have Him present, as it were. The way to love Him is to contemplate "His deeds and His great and wondrous creatures," that is to say, the angels in all their variety and the souls of humanity, and from that exercise to love their Creator.

Contemplation of the properties of lowly matter, the stuff of this world, as moving as it may sometimes be, does not bring directly to love of Hashem.

The tremendous distance that there is between this lowly world and the elevated worlds of the spirit indicates that the lowly creatures are not an efficient tool to arouse spiritual love.

On the contrary. Even though the material world can serve as a springboard to spiritual growth, the greatest danger is that it will serve the opposite: the pull of the material on we who reside in the clay houses of our bodies is a powerful force towards materialism and away from spirituality. Excessive contemplation of the material is liable to bring the subject to wallow in the sea of materialism rather than to help him to soar towards spirituality.

It is well known that the great iron curtain that divides us from our Heavenly Father is the body. We do not try to weaken the body with extensive self-affliction, but it is clear that it is essential to be in control of the body and its desires. This alone makes it dangerous to spend too much time contemplating the material world in order to reach love of Hashem.

To love Hashem it is necessary to break the fleshly barrier and to reach spirituality, and ultimately Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

In order to love Hashem we must become closer to spirituality so that we can get closer to Him, since He is the Source of all. In order to get closer to the spiritual realm, we must come to know the residents of the realm. The better we know them the closer it brings us to their area. This can be seen to be true even without being experienced. In contrast, a preoccupation with matter -- and even the wisdom embedded within matter -- does not bring one closer to the world of the spirit. It would take a considerable effort to ensure that such a preoccupation not distance the person from that world.

What the Rambam writes in these chapters is, in his own words, "like a mere drop in the ocean of what needs to be explained in this area." But this drop includes the basics of angels and the human soul, and it is to them that the Rambam referred in writing of "His great and wondrous creatures." This is a complex realm and there are many distinct kinds of angels, as the Rambam quotes, "And this is what Shlomo in his wisdom hinted to in saying, `There is a higher and higher guardian.' "

He who thinks and learns about these creatures learns to appreciate and becomes more familiar with spiritual reality. He learns that these matterless forms are alive and important. As he learns more about them, and comes to know them and their greatness better, he lifts himself out of the darkness of material reality and spurs himself to seek more spirituality, like these creatures, and he certainly "increases his love of Hashem, and his soul with thirst and his flesh pine to love Hashem, may He be blessed" (4:12).

In the Sefer Mitzvos, Mitzvah 3, the Rambam brings another means to come to love of Hashem: "That we think and contemplate His mitzvos and His words and His deeds, until we grasp Him and we take ultimate pleasure in grasping Him. This is the obligatory love. As the Sifri says: It says, "And you shall love Hashem your G-d," but I do not know how to love Him. So we learn from what is says, "And these words, which I command you today, shall be upon your heart." From this, you come to recognize He Who spoke and the world came into being.

In other words, another way to achieve ahavas Hashem is to learn Torah -- "these words." From what we have been saying this is very reasonable: Since the Torah is itself spiritual, and also brings those who study it strongly and steadily closer to spirituality, learning Torah will certainly bring the learner to "recognize He Who spoke and the world came into being."

It is also worthwhile to quote another passage from the Rambam, at the end of the Sefer Maddo at the close of Hilchos Teshuvoh (10:3): "And what is the appropriate love? It is that he will love Hashem a tremendous, excessive and extremely powerful love, until his soul is bound to ahavas Hashem, and he is madly involved with it always: As if he were lovesick, and his mind is never free of the woman that he is madly in love with, when he rises and when he goes to sleep, and when he eats and when he drinks.

"Greater than this must be the love of Hashem in the hearts of those who love Him. They must be mad about Him always, as He commanded: `. . . with all your heart and with all your soul' (Devorim 6:5). And this is what Shlomo said, as a metaphor, `. . . for I am lovesick' (Shir Hashirim 2:5); and all Shir Hashirim is a metaphor for his idea."

Ahavas Hashem -- love of Hashem -- is a constant mitzvah that we are obligated in all the time, day and night. Yehi rotzon that we will seek it properly and fully fulfill it.

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