In this week’s Torah portion Parshas Ekev, Moshe gives the Jewish people a tall order:
Now, Israel, what does Hashem ask of you, only to have awe of him, to go in all his ways and to love him with all your heart and all your soul. (Devarim 10:12)
This commandment to love God is not only mentioned here, but it is repeated several times in this week's Torah portion; 23 times in total throughout the Book of Devarim.
The commentaries ask, how is it possible to command someone to have a certain emotion, do we have that much control over our emotions? Can a person love something or someone simply because he or she is told to do so?
Furthermore, what does it mean to love God with all our heart? Surely there are people in our lives who we love very much. Can a person love multiple things, each one with all his heart? Does the love that one has for other things or other people in this world detract from loving God with all his heart?
To understand this commandment, we must make a very important distinction between the mitzvah to love God and most other mitzvot in the Torah. As a general rule, the mitzvot are a set of tools given to us in order to build our spiritual selves, to purify us and allow us access to our Godly soul. They are practical steps that can be performed by anyone, from the simplest Jew to the advanced Torah scholar, that affect us in a very deep way. Simple acts like making a blessing on food can elevate our physical bodies through what we eat. Lighting Shabbat candles can bring peace to the home. And wrapping ourselves in Tallit and Tefillin can help us cleanse our thoughts and physical desires.
But loving God is neither a tool nor a practical step. It is the end goal of all that we are commanded to do, the sum total of our mitzvot, the desired results of living a life of Torah. The more mitzvot we perform, the more we gain an awareness of God, an awareness that quickly becomes a relationship; a relationship that quickly becomes a loving connection and unity. In fact, the very root of the word mitzvah means connection.
The more mitzvot we perform, the more we gain an