In the previous letter, we discussed the following statement from the “Song of Songs”: “Many waters cannot extinguish the love” (8:7).
The commentator, Rashi, explains that the term “waters” is a metaphor for “nations”; thus, we are proclaiming that many nations cannot extinguish our love for Hashem, the Compassionate One. In what way do these nations attempt to extinguish our love for Hashem? The commentator, Metzudas David, explains that they attempt to extinguish our love for Hashem through seductive persuasion. In the previous two letters, we discussed the seductive persuasion of certain Christian groups among the nations. In this letter, we will begin to discuss how certain streams of modern western culture which are found among many nations are attempting to extinguish the flame of our love for Hashem through offering us a different form of love – one which is primarily narcissistic:
Hashem is the Creator of all life; thus, our love for Hashem is to lead us to a love for all creation. In this spirit, the Maharal of Prague, writes:
“Love of all creatures is also love of Hashem, the Blessed One, for whoever loves the One, loves all the works that He has made” (Nesivos Olam, Ahavas Re'a, 1).
The Maharal also refers us to the Mishna where Rabbi Akiva teaches:
“Beloved is the human being who was created in the image. A greater love was made known to him that he was created in the image, as it is stated (Genesis 9:6): ‘For in the image of God He made the human being.’ ” (Pirkei Avos 3:18 – in some editions, 3:14)
Our love of Hashem is to also lead to a special love for other human beings who are created in the Divine image, which gives them the capacity to emulate the Divine love and compassion. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch elaborates on this idea in the following excerpt from his essay on the Divine mandate, “Love your neighbor as yourself: I am Hashem” (Leviticus 19:18). With the added words, “I am Hashem,” explains Rabbi Hirsch, the Creator is saying:
“I am Hashem, the personification of love, Who has chosen the human being to be the instrument of this love. Do you, O human being, not see how this love is the finest flower of this mission? How do you raise yourself above the stone and the plant and the animal? Is it not through devoting yourself of your own free will to the welfare of the world around you? And this is just what love effects. Your whole activity belongs to God’s world; first, then, belong to it with the source of your activity, with your heart. Carry in it love for God’s world, above all for your fellow-human, the first and worthiest recipient of your beneficent activity. Carry love in your heart; it is this which makes you a human being and an Israelite.” (Horeb - Toroth 16)
When our love for all creatures and human beings is rooted in our love for Hashem, then this love is rooted in the Higher, Eternal Source of all life and love. It is therefore a lasting love – one which is not dependent on the changing moods and thoughts of each human being and each generation. This is why our forefathers and foremothers were able to pass down to future generations a love for Hashem which inspired our people to excel in the mitzvos – Divine mandates – to engage in lovingkindness and tzedekah, the sharing of our resources with those in need. (Examples of our devotion to these altruistic mitzvos throughout the generations were discussed in previous letters, including a recent letter titled “Justifiable Pride” which appears in the archive of our current series “My Firstborn Child” which is found on our website.)
It is no secret that certain major streams of modern western culture emphasize a different kind of love – a love for physical beauty which gratifies our lusts. The major “missionaries” of this narcissistic love include the media, entertainment industry, various websites on the internet, as well as the constant advertising which reminds us again and again to view other human beings as objects for sexual gratification. This hedonistic culture is spreading all over the world, and it is threatening our traditional spiritual culture, as well as other traditional spiritual cultures which share some of our sacred values.
During the era of the first Chanukah, our spiritual culture was threatened by a hedonistic stream of Greek culture which emphasized the love and worship of physical beauty. The missionaries of this stream of culture sought to replace the Holy Temple where we expressed our love for the Compassionate One with a temple devoted to idolatry and orgies. These missionaries sought to extinguish our love for Hashem, but there arose a family of Kohanim – known as “Maccabees” – that proclaimed, “Many waters cannot extinguish the love!” They therefore sought to protect the souls of our people from the attempts to replace a higher and infinite love with a lower and finite love.
There is a Mishna in Pirkei Avos (5:19) which teaches that all love which depends on a physical or external cause will pass away when the cause is no longer there, but a love which is not dependent on a physical or external cause will last forever. The Mishna cites the loving friendship between David and Jonathan as an example of a love which lasts forever. It is recorded in the Book of Samuel 1 that “Jonathan’s soul became attached to David’s soul” (18:1). The commentator, Malbim, explains that in a spirit of strength and holiness, the good within Jonathan’s soul was drawn to the good within David's soul. The spiritual qualities of the soul last forever; thus, a love based on these spiritual qualities also lasts forever.
These spiritual qualities within our souls are a reminder of our connection to Hashem – the Source of all souls. We may not be always be fully aware of it, but deep within our souls is a yearning and love for our Sacred Source. Without always realizing it, we are expressing this love for Hashem through our loving concern for Hashem’s creatures, including human beings who are created in the Divine image. We also express this love through our prayers; moreover, we express this love through the various “songs” of our soul – through music, writing, art, and other forms of creative expression.
On another level, we are expressing this love for Hashem through our loving concern for Am Yisrael – the People of Israel – the people that Hashem chose for a special and universal mission. In addition, we are expressing this love through our study of Torah, the Divine teachings, including the unique portion of Torah which is given to each of our souls.
Yes, we already have some love for Hashem! We need, however, to strengthen and deepen this love, and we can pray to Hashem to help us. Most important, we need to protect the flame of this love from the hedonistic streams of modern western culture. Let us therefore become modern Maccabees who will proclaim with holy strength and pride:
“Many waters cannot extinguish the love!”
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. There are situations when we, the People of the Torah, can cooperate with those of other spiritual traditions who share our concern about the threatening hedonistic streams of modern western culture. We need to be careful, however, to conduct ourselves with dignity, with a knowledge of our own Torah values, and with the wisdom which can help us to avoid forms of cooperation which can lead to a weakening of our own unique identity and role. In certain situations, we can engage in respectful dialogue and cooperation without betraying out of ignorance or timidity the sacred beliefs and values of our own spiritual heritage. This is a major reason why we need the guidance of leading Torah sages regarding dialogue and cooperation with people from other spiritual traditions.
2. For further inspiration, you may wish to review the following recent letters in the archive of our current series, My Firstborn Child, which is found on our website: “Hashem is Love”; “The Loving and Comforting Promise”; and “The Loving Forgiveness.”