Encounters with G-d
Excerpt from Lesson 2
- Motivations for Love
- The Mitzvah to Love G-d
- Achieving Love of G-d
Torah Wisdom: The Challenge of Looking Beyond Nature
- Forging a Relationship toward G-d: The Behavior of a Pious Person
- A Key to Loving G-d: Genuine Gratefulness
- Link: Expressing Gratitude to G-d
Topic: Motivations for Love
Rabbi Yoseph Albo (1380-1444, Spain) describes two
general categories of motivations for one person to love another, and explains
how these motivations apply to mans ability and inclination to love
Sefer HaIkarim (The Book of Fundamental
 Some loving relationships are based on external
factors, such as on the benefits one receives or can receive from this
relationship, or on the pleasure one person finds in the company of the other,
or even in the company of an animal one loves. Loving relationships such as
these may be dependent solely on factors that are unrelated to the inherent
worth of the individual who is the object of ones love. The intensity of the
relationship is therefore measured in terms of the quantity of benefits
anticipated or received, or the degree of pleasure one can gain from the person.
Thus in this case, the greater the practical benefits or pleasure of the
relationship, the greater is ones love; the less the benefits or pleasure,
the less intense is ones love. However, love based on such considerations can
disintegrate completely if the benefits or pleasure discontinue.
These types of relationships may have nothing to do with
the actual personality and motivations of the beloved. Indeed, one might not
even know ones beloved very well; one may know only the benefits or
pleasures one can receive from the relationship. This approach to love cannot
create a true bond of oneness between two people, for the lover is focused not
on his/her beloved as a person, but on the benefits and pleasures that can be
gained from an alliance with this individual.
The Sages (Tractate Ethics of the Fathers 5:16) predict
the outcome of this type of love and its tenuous basis: Any love that is
dependent on an [external] factor will terminate with the loss of that
[external] factorA [biblical] example of such a relationship is Amnons
love for Tamar (Samuel II, ch. 13).
[Scripture relates that King Davids son Amnon was
infatuated with his half sister Tamar. As the story unfolds, it becomes evident
that Amnons love for Tamar is based on self-serving ardor and a craving for
an intimate relationship with her. Immediately after he satisfied his
passion for her through violent means, love lost its place entirely in his
feelings toward her. In fact the prophet describes Amnons hatred for her as
greater than the love that he felt for her previously (Samuel II,
Amnons love did not stem from a recognition on
his part of some fine quality of Tamars personality. On the contrary, his
only desire was for a physical relationship with her. Therefore his love did not
intensify with time, binding him to Tamar the person; his only interest
was in Tamar the object of his self-love, and this love quickly died.]
 As opposed to the first category of love that is built
upon some external factor, love can be based on ones recognition of and
appreciation for some fine quality, trait, or approach to life that one finds in
another person. Love based on such factors can be independent of whether or not
the lover receives pleasure or practical benefits from the relationship. This
type of love does not diminish, since it is not dependent on anything one might
receive from ones beloved.
This type of love creates a unity of souls between the
lover and the beloved; they are bound by the essential goodness that the lover
recognizes in the beloved. In a relationship such as this, the lover desires to
do that which his beloved wants or needs, regardless of the sacrifice involved.
The Sages (ibid.) discuss the outcome of this type of love
as well: Any love that is not dependent on an [external] factor will not
cease with the loss of the [external] factorA [biblical] example of such a
relationship is Jonathans love for [King] David (Samuel I, 18:1-4).
[King Sauls son Jonathan was soul-bound with David, for
each recognized the noble character of the other. Acting in accordance with this
mutual foundation of love, Jonathan demonstrated his loyalty to David, helping
David survive the many attempts of Jonathans father to kill him. Jonathan was
well aware that the assistance he gave David promoted the establishment of
Davids monarchy at the expense of his fathers monarchy, which would
eventually have become his own.]
Love that is based on recognition of the beloveds
essential goodness is a person-focused love in which the lover is drawn to
the beloved in a true binding of souls. Since it is their essential
characteristics that drew them together, their feelings will not dissipate. With
each new revelation of the beloveds goodness, the bond of unity intensifies.
Object-focused love, on the other hand, is based on
the beloveds ability to provide for the lovers needs (whether physical
needs, such as financial support, or emotional needs, such as companionship).
This type of love does not focus on the beloved him-/herself. Lacking a solid
bond to the beloved, the very existence of such love will depend on the
lovers continued recognition of the fulfillment of his/her needs.
Having explained these principles of human relationships,
Rabbi Albo goes on to explain how we can apply them to establishing our
relationship toward G-d.
Our love for G-d can derive both from our
recognition of G-ds goodness and from G-ds fulfilling of our
When we consider that G-d is absolutely good, it is
clear that we can forge the most intense bond of love with G-d. We can
achieve this by focusing on the acquisition of greater understanding of G-ds
goodness, for such understanding will draw us closer to Him. [This can compare
to a human, person-focused love, which is based on essential goodness.]
In addition, in order to strengthen our love for G-d
we can contemplate the benefits and pleasures that G-d gives us. We can
also consider the remarkable fact that G-d created and continues to
sustain all of existence. [This can compare to human, object-focused love,
which can help to promote one level of love for G-d.]
Rabbi Albo cites one example of G-ds beneficence
in providing for our needs:
G-d could have created a world that provided only
the barest necessities to sustain human and animal life. He could have made
bread and water the only food and drink available. Instead, G-d created a
world containing an abundant variety of foods to delight our palates.
Rabbi Albo explains that recognizing G-ds
beneficence in providing for our needs is a means for fostering a love for G-ds essential goodness. This is the key to understanding
commandment to love and fear Him.
Maimonides (1135-1204, Egypt) explains the mitzvah of