To love God is not just a philosophical idea in Judaism, it is a mitzvah that every Jew is required to fulfill. The Rambam who structured his Sefer Hamitzvot thematically includes the mitzvah to love God as the third Mitzvah. It follows the mitzvot to believe in God and to believe there is but one God. Clearly, the Rambam used this structure to convey his view as to the centrality of this mitzvah. The Sefer Hachinuch whose structure follows the order of the pesukim in the Torah, includes this mitzvah in parashat Va’etchanan (mitzvah 418). The mitzvah is learned from the pasuk “Ve’ahavta et Hashem elokecha bechol levavcha uvechol nafshecha uvechol meodecha (Devarim 6/5)” – “You shall love God your lord with all your heart and all your soul and with all your resources.”
However, as this mitzvah requires not a physical action but rather a commitment of the heart, how is one to achieve a love of God? The Rambam, and the Sefer Hachinuch in his footsteps, suggest that we are commanded to study and comprehend His commandments and deeds. Through this study, we are meant to reach a level of personal comprehension and appreciation of God. The pleasure of this understanding and the aspiration for further comprehension is the true expression of the love of God. While in the Sefer Hamitzvot the focus is on the study of the commandments, in his Mishneh Torah, the Rambam stresses the observation of the actions of God. In Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah (ch2, halacha2), the Rambam writes: When man observes his (God’s) wonderful and great deeds and creations he will then see the immeasurable and unlimited wisdom. Immediately he loves, praises, glorifies and desires, a great desire, to know the great God. The stress here is on the deeds and creations of God as a means to appreciating God’s greatness, not upon his commandments.
The breadth and depth of the love expected of a Jew is expressed in the wording of the pasuk. “Ve’ahavta et Hashem elokecha bechol levavcha uvchol nafshecha uvecho meodecha”, love God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your resources. “All your heart and soul” expresses the depth of love expected. “With all your heart”, states the Gemarah (Berachot 54a), even your Yetzer hara, your evil drives, should be forced into the love of God. “With all your resources” teaches that one must be willing to sacrifice for the love of God. On this point, the Gemarah in several places (see Berachot 54a, 61b, pesachim 25a, Yuma 82a, Sanhedrin 74a) notes that the pasuk uses both all your soul and all your resources. The purpose of this duality is to teach that if one cherishes his life more than his property he must be willing to sacrifice his life for the love of God. If one should cherish his property more than life then he must be willing to give that property for the love of God.
Our rabbis have taken the idea of the love of God one step further. Our love of God must be projected to others. The Gemarah in Yumah (86a) speaks of making God loved by virtue of our behavior. Our deeds should reflect our love enhancing the love others feel for him. The midrash (Sifrei Devarim, Parashat Va’etchanan sec 32) reads the words “ve’ahavta et Hashem” as make Hashem beloved. It calls for us to take our passive love of God and proactively take measures to make God loved by others just as Avraham Avinu did.
Rav Perla (1855 – 1937), in his masterwork on Rav Seadya Gaon’s Sefer Hamitzvot (aseh 19), takes the idea of actively making God beloved one step further. Rav Perla sees the proactive attitude of making God beloved by others as an integral part of the biblical command to love God. He goes even further with this position stating that it is this aspect of the mitzvah which is the basis of the mitzvah to accept converts into the Jewish nation.