Online Adult Jewish learning

Foundations Course Information:

Course InfoDetailsSyllabusSample Lecture
Other Courses in this Series:

Foundations 1: Foundations of Judaism

Foundations 2: Responsible Leadership

Foundations 4: Oral Torah & Midrash

Foundations 5: Divine Providence

Foundations Series:
Encounters with G-d

Excerpt from Lesson 2

Lesson Outline:

  1. Motivations for Love
  2. The Mitzvah to Love G-d
  3. Achieving Love of G-d
    1. Torah Wisdom: The Challenge of Looking Beyond Nature
  4. Forging a Relationship toward G-d: The Behavior of a Pious Person
  5. A Key to Loving G-d: Genuine Gratefulness
    1. 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 G-d:

Sefer HaIkarim (The Book of Fundamental Principles, 3:35-6)

[1] 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, 13:15).

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.]

[2] 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 needs.

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 G-ds commandment to love and fear Him.

Maimonides (1135-1204, Egypt) explains the mitzvah of loving G-d.