We all have moments of being struck by the awesomeness of life – whether the birth of a baby, a canopy of stars above, a piece of majestic music, or a breathtaking sunset.
These experiences are both energizing and calming at the same time. They enable us to break beyond our own limitations and to merge our (relatively) tiny, insignificant selves with the greater infinite unity.
If God's creation can have such an impact on us, how much more would an experience with the Creator Himself.
Consider someone travelling the world seeking exciting experiences. Now tell him: "In the next room, you can sit down and speak to God Almighty Himself for an entire hour."
Wouldn't that be the ultimate experience?
Way #31 is Ohev et HaMakom – literally "Love The Place." In Judaism, God is referred to as The Place because God is not part of the universe, rather "the universe is part of God." He created space; He created time. There is no place where God is not found, and therefore everywhere is in Him. God is The Place because He transcends the entire universe.
The 48 Ways instructs us to "love The Place." Why?
Next to love of God, all other pleasures are insignificant. We can have delicious pizza, lots of money, love and power. But humans yearn to transcend the mundane side of daily life. That's why mystery, magic and miracles capture our imaginations.
When all is said and done, no human being can be truly satisfied unless he reaches out and connects with the infinite transcendent dimension. We all seek to connect with that which encompasses all pleasures. Because nothing finite, nothing bound up in this world, can compare to the infinite.
The Big Price Tag
For the greatest pleasure, we have to pay the greatest price: Gratitude.
To love God is to appreciate all the good He does for you. Whatever you have is a gift from God. That means giving up the illusion that you alone are responsible for your achievements.
Why is gratitude such a difficult awareness to sustain? Because the human ego craves recognition and independence; it balks at the concept of indebtedness to a Higher Power. We prefer to believe that we've done it ourselves!
The counterfeit of this idea is thinking that someone or something else is providing for your needs. The one who believes their career or relationship is the ultimate fulfillment is mistaken. Those things can disappear. Only God has absolute power and only God is eternal.
To appreciate the value of God's gifts, focus on the fact that anything you lack is nothing in comparison to what you already have. Consider your eyes, for example. You couldn't buy an eye for a million dollars. Yet God gave you – for free – a pair of eyes that work more accurately, quickly and efficiently than the most sophisticated digital vision devices.
Actually, every pleasure in the world is related to the essence of God, who is the source of all pleasure. For example:
- Driving a car = the pleasure of power = God
- Horseback riding = the pleasure of independence = God
- Music = the pleasure of harmony = God
- Dance = the pleasure of feeling alive = God
Building love of God means to appreciate the enormous gift of life. Consciously work to appreciate the pleasure of even simple things like taste, breathing, gravity, etc. Then ask yourself: "How do I get this aesthetic experience as a constant in my life?"
Once you appreciate the pleasures, then see God as the invisible Source of all of it. Just as every stroke of Picasso's brush bears his signature, so too everything in this world has God's signature. You just have to recognize it.
Developing Love of God
God, being "The Place" is everywhere at all times. If you act as if God is only here sometimes, or that He doesn't care much about you, or that He doesn't pay attention to details of your life, then a close relationship with God will be impossible.
That's why you have to be consistent. If you want meaning and transcendence in life – and you do – then you need to keep in mind that God is everywhere at all times, paying attention to you… and waiting for you to pay attention to Him.
In fact, this is the ultimate goal for which man was created. We were put on Earth in order to overcome illusion and use our free will to build a relationship with God. He could have made robots, but God prefers a real relationship – which means we have to choose it.
Because this consciousness is difficult to attain, Jewish life has built-in reminders. For instance, we put a mezuzah on our doorpost. Some people think it's a superstitious ritual to ward off ghosts. But if you open up a mezuzah and read what's inside, you'll see that God is one, that He is a personal God who cares about us, and that He does everything solely for our benefit. Ponder what's written inside. Kiss the mezuzah when you go in and when you go out, to always stay focused on what you're living for.
We also say the "Shema," once in the morning and again at night. What does the Shema say? "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources" (Deut. 6:5).
There are three primary paths to develop love of God, corresponding to the three aspects enumerated in the verse: heart, soul and resources. Let's examine them one by one:
1) Love of God Through Nature
If you look at nature and recognize that everything God put in the world is a gift, you will come to love Him. And the more we analyze the phenomenal genius, beauty and symmetry of nature, the more we'll appreciate the perfection and kindness of its Creator. Over all the years, science has made more and more discoveries – yet still hasn't scratched the surface of nature's wonders.
When we look out over the Grand Canyon, we are awed. When we see a meadow blanketed in freshly fallen snow, we sense tranquility. And when lighting illuminates a black sky, we are both shaken and exhilarated.
One prerequisite, if you want to be awestricken when you see nature, is to be completely open-minded. You have to really want to know, without any bias: "What is nature telling me?"
See how nature was designed to provide all our needs – both physical and emotional. For example, food not only sustains us nutritionally, but includes many fringe benefits. Each fruit has its own beauty, taste, texture, form, color and smell!
Imagine if someone gave you a car as a gift and then asked to borrow it. It would be your pleasure to let him use it.
So too with God. He gives us a universe full of material wealth. So if He asks us to eat kosher food or re-dispense 10 percent of our income to charity, it's hard to object. This recognition brings us to loving God "with all your resources."
2) Love of God Through History
Love of God is also achieved by studying history – both your personal history and the national history of the Jewish people.
See the things that God has done for you. How He gave you life and continuously sustains you. He keeps you breathing and your organs functioning. He endows you with every strength and ability you possess.
But it's beyond just gifts. If you really care about someone, you want a relationship with them. And what if they won't pay attention to you? You do something to catch their attention.
That's how God works with us. God showers us with gifts, and He'll also do something to wake us up if we drift through life. He's not punishing us; He just wants to get your attention: "Hey, it's Me, God. I missed you!"
Appreciate His constant care. God says, "Do you want to really live? Do you want meaning in life? Do you want to become fulfilled? Perhaps you're going about it the wrong way. Perhaps I know better. Pay attention to Me!"
Look at your personal history. It's not that you've managed to fight and survive despite everything. On the contrary, God has given you the opportunity to grow. He arranges the events of your life, according to your special set of circumstances, to teach you and guide you at every moment and every stage.
You can also look at world history and see how God has ensured the survival of the Jewish people – despite impossible odds. As part of the eternal Jewish chain, appreciate how God has gone out of His way for you.
If someone has proven He'll do anything to help, you'll get tremendous pleasure in expending effort in return. Therefore, the amount of pleasure you feel when doing God's commandments, indicates the level of "Love of God" you have achieved.
Love of God means developing our drive to be close to God. Don't wait for it to happen – pursue it. Do it intelligently. Be willing to invest time and effort to get this pleasure.
If there is no limit to the effort you'll expend to serve God, that's loving God "with all your soul."
3) Love of God Through Torah
How do we discover the path of meaning? Through the Torah, God's communication to the world. So the more you study Torah, the more you come to love and appreciate God's wisdom – the ultimate, infinite source of wisdom. And the more you build a relationship with Him.
When you get into Torah study, you realize that if something doesn't make sense, you have to rack your brains to figure it out… because you know that Torah is intrinsically perfect. Then, every time you succeed in working out an issue, the pleasure makes you want more.
What would cause you to change your desires for God?
If you appreciate that God and His Torah encompasses the ultimate in "meaning," the logical extension is to set aside your personal goals and desires in order to do the will of God. You realize that nothing else can give you meaning, and you'll drop anything which is not consistent with the will of God.
A person eventually recognizes that any desire to go against God's will create a distance between you and Him. Knowing this, you'll want to eliminate these barriers – not simply because the Torah instructs you to do so, but because you can't stand it! It gets in the way of your relationship with God. When we recognize there is nothing more precious than closeness to God, then every character flaw is seen as an intruder trying to break up that relationship. So you squelch those flaws with a vengeance.
If you identify with your soul, you'll pursue this goal your entire life. That's loving God "with all your heart."
Desire to Share With Others
One important manifestation of loving God is the desire to share it.
When you love God and you see other people getting caught up in all sorts of trivialities, it hurts. Why? Because it pains you to see a fellow human being missing out on such an awesome pleasure. So when you're filled with enthusiasm about being close to God, you want all of humanity to have that relationship, too.
This is not like human beings who become jealous when the attention of their beloved is directed elsewhere. When it comes to God, there's no jealousy when other people have a relationship with Him. Because God is infinite.
Why is "Love of God" a Way to Wisdom?
- Every human being has a longing for the transcendental.
- Take pleasure in the infinite beauty, grace, power, wisdom and meaning of our Creator.
- People shy away from God because they're afraid it will stifle them. Yet they'll climb mountains for the ultimate transcendental pleasure.
- Artists think they have it, but there is more. God is the real aesthetic experience.
- Love the Almighty for the gifts He gives you – hands, feet, power of speech, etc.
- If you feel God's love for you, you'll love Him in return.
- The pleasure of a gift is according to the one who gives it to you. Appreciate who God is.
- It's relatively easy to love God, since everything about God is virtuous.
- Every pleasure you have can be related back to God as the source. Feel His presence constantly.
- The best way to attain love of God is to ask continuously: "What am I living for? What do I want out of life?"