Love of Hashem


The Sefer Hachinuch, written in the 13th century in Spain, is a compendium of the 613 commandments of the Torah based upon the book of mitzvoth written by Maimonides. In the introduction to the Sefer Hachinuch the author list six commandments that apply to all Israelites, both male and female, and for all time, both day and night, as follows:

  1. Belief in (or knowledge of) Hashem (Exodus 20:2).
  2. Not to believe in any other deity (Exodus 20:3).
  3. To believe that Hashem is one (Deuteronomy 6:4).
  4. To love Hashem (ibid. 6:5).
  5. To revere Hashem (ibid. 10:20).
  6. Not to follow the desires of the heart and sight of the eyes (Numbers 15:39).

There are many levels to loving Hashem depending upon one’s life situation and trials. This article will examine this commandment using the pardes method of exposition (i.e. literal meaning, exegesis, allusions, and secrets of the Torah), drawn from the Torah, Talmud, Midrash, and Zohar with associated commentaries.

Literal Meaning – פשט

The Torah commands this love in several verses from the book of Deuteronomy (e.g. 6:5, 11:1, 11:13, 11:22, 19:9, 30:16, and 30:20).

This article will focus on Deuteronomy 6:5 and 11:13 because these two verses are included in the Shema declaration of faith which the Israelites recite twice a day in the prayers with blessings both preceding and following the Shema. The Shema consists of the following paragraphs from the Torah in this order Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Deuteronomy 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41.   

Verse 1 (ibid. 6:5) – “You shall love Hashem, with all your heart, soul, and resources.”

Verse 2 (ibid. 11:13) – “… To love Hashem and serve him with all your heart and soul.”

At a literal level the reader may ask the following questions:

  1. “In verse 1, what does the Torah mean by loving Hashem with all your heart, soul, and resources? “ On the surface these three terms appear to be synonymous.
  2. “Why are there 2 verses to express the same commandment?”
  3. “In contrast to verse 1, why does verse 2 omit the word ‘resources’?”

Exegesis – דרש

Parameters of Love for Hashem

The Talmud in Berachot 54a precisely defines the terms “heart, soul, and resources” of verse 1, thereby answering question 1 as follows:

Term – EnglishTerm – HebrewInterpretation
HeartלבבךSubdue the evil inclination
ResourcesמאדךSacrifice of Money

Subdue the Evil Inclination – Heart לבבך

Hashem created man with dual inclinations, labeled by the Talmud (ibid.) as good and evil. The Hebrew word לבבך (your heart in English) alludes to this duality by the additional letter (ב). The good inclination also called the divine soul naturally seeks spirituality by serving the creator with love and enthusiasm. The evil inclination also called the animal soul seeks physicality by pursuing earthly desires (e.g. marital relations, food, and entertainment.) The author will elaborate on the definition of the soul in a companion article “Five Levels of the Soul”. It is interesting to note that Maimonides in his code Mishneh Torah discusses the laws of forbidden marital relations and kosher food in his section “Book of Holiness”, indicating that these two areas are the primary focus of physicality. Often these two inclinations are in conflict. Therefore the Talmud (ibid.) advises the Israelites to serve Hashem with both the good and evil inclinations. The reader may ask, “How can one serve Hashem with the evil inclination which generally directs a person away from spirituality?   The oral law and its commentators offer the following answers, in increasing levels of devotion:

  1. Subdue the evil inclination as Ben Zoma says (Avot 4:1), “Who is strong? He who subdues his evil inclination.” When one is confronted with temptation he should strive to subdue these desires because of his great love for Hashem.
  2. Channel the evil inclination in the direction of serving Hashem. (In modern psychology the term is sublimation.) For example if someone enjoys gourmet meals let him share his bounty with the less fortunate, thereby fulfilling the mitzvah of taking care of the poor.  As Rav Yehuda says in the name of Rav (Peschim 50b),”A person should always engage in the study of Torah and performance of mitzvoth, even for ulterior motives. For eventually (with the help of Hashem), he will perform these mitzvoth with the proper intention.
  3. Focus on Hashem at all times even when one must engage in physicality (e.g. eating, drinking, and performing marital relations).  Bar Kappara taught (Berachot 63a), “Which is a brief passage upon which all fundamental principles of Torah are dependent? He answers by quoting (Proverb 3:6), “In all your ways acknowledge Him (Hashem), and He (Hashem) will direct your paths”.  The Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 231 offers the same advice.
  4. Achieve a high level of love for Hashem to the extent that one has no desire for physicality. At the previous levels one has a desire for physicality but deals with according to the 3 steps discussed above (Likkutei Amarim Chapter 10). As the sages advise in the pursuit of Torah (Avot 6:4),” Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, and live a life of deprivation – but toil in the Torah!” In addition the Talmud Berachot 61b identifies a totally righteous person as one who has completely eradicated the evil impulse as the verse says (Psalms 109:22),”My heart (evil inclination) has died within me.” 

Martyrdom – Soul נפשך

The Torah commands that you love Hashem with all your heart, soul נפשך, and resources. The Talmud (Berachot 54a and Sanhedrin 74a) defines loving Hashem with your soul, as avoiding idolatry even if it involves martyrdom. The Talmudic commentaries consider that the love of Hashem should require martyrdom in the face of any transgression. However the Torah also states (Leviticus 18:5) that we should perform the mitzvoth and live by them וחי בהם implying that martyrdom should be avoided.  The Talmud reconciles the two verses by stating that all Jews must undergo martyrdom in the face of idolatry and other sins only when derived from other verses, otherwise human life must be preserved. In addition leaders of a generation whose love for Hashem outweighs their own lives may become martyrs to uphold even positive commandments like Rabbi Akiva who taught Torah publicly in the face of decrees of the Roman government (Berachot 61b).

In addition to idolatry the Torah commands Israelites to offer their lives in the face of some forbidden marital relations and murder. There are many details in the laws of martyrdom which are explained in the article “Sanctification of Hashem” on this web site:

Sacrifice of Money – Resources מאדך

The Talmud (Berachot 54a) understands the word resources (מאדך) as referring to money or wealth.  Targum Onkelos and Targum Yonatan ben Uziel understand this word “resources” as referring to property or money, respectively. The Talmud (ibid. 61b) asks, “Why does the Torah mention money with respect to the love of Hashem? If the Torah commands martyrdom to avoid transgressing a major commandment then certainly one must give his money to avoid transgressing this commandment.” The Talmud answers that some people value their money over their lives. The Rema on Yoreh Deah 157:1 rules that one must sacrifice his wealth rather than transgressing any negative commandment, not just idolatry. 

In addition to sacrifice of money, the Talmud (Ibid. 54a) interprets the word מאד (very) as מדה (measure), meaning that whatever measure Hashem metes out to a person he should give thanks to Hashem (לו מודה). In this sense one should not play the victim and make the best of a situation with the resources that Hashem has given him.       

In a homiletic sense, the word מאד which means “very” implies that each person should love Hashem with the special gifts that Hashem has given him. This thought continues the exposition of the above paragraph meaning to love Hashem in whatever measure Hashem metes out, whether in a positive sense (i.e. special gifts) or challenges in life. 

Difference in first two sections of Shema

The Torah commands the love of Hashem in different paragraphs (i.e. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21). As listed in question 2 above, “Why are there 2 verses to express the same commandment?” Midrash Tanchuma Noah 3 addresses this question and explains that the former paragraph refers to a Torah scholar whose primary focus is the study of the oral law (i.e. Talmud and today the Shulchan Aruch with commentaries). The Torah scholar disregards a worldly occupation and spends most of his time studying, teaching, and writing about the oral law. Consequently he is not interested in worldly pleasures or pursuits. His primary source of income may come through teaching, writing, or community support. By contrast the latter paragraph refers to a working person whose primary focus is supporting his family through an occupation, (e.g. farming as the Torah suggests and today in the professions, trades, or business) and spends his free time studying the written Torah and practical Halacha. Of course he must find some time to delve into the oral law according to his abilities and other responsibilities.  He may also acquire the merit of studying the oral law by supporting Torah scholars. The following table lists the features of these two types (i.e. scholar and worker) and the related verses in chapters 6 and 11 of Deuteronomy, respectively.

OccupationTorah study5Work13,14
Love of HashemTorah study5-6Prayer13
Type of studyOral law7Written law19
RewardNot mentionedProsperity14-15
SinNot mentionedIdolatry16
PunishmentNot mentionedFamine and Exile17
PriorityTorah study7-8Mitzvoth18-19
Torah SpeakerFather7Children19

The following paragraph elaborates on this table with particular emphasis on the subtleties of these verses.

  • Person – The former paragraph speaks in the singular referring to the unique Torah scholar. By contrast the latter paragraph speaks in the plural (except for verses 14, 15, 19, and 20) referring to the general population of workers.
  • Occupation – As mentioned above the Torah scholar devotes his life to Torah study even if that means a life of limited means. Hence the word “resources (מאדך)” in reference to money applies to the Torah scholar who is willing to forgo financial gain in pursuit of his love of Hashem. By contrast the Torah does not expect most people to abandon an occupation to study Torah full time, therefore the word “your resources (מאדכם)” is omitted in the latter paragraph, thereby answering question 3 above (i.e. the omission of the word resources in the second paragraph).
  • Love of Hashem -The Torah scholar derives his love of Hashem primarily through Torah study because the verses following the commandment to love Hashem speak of studying Torah, “These matters (i.e. words of Torah) shall be upon your heart” (ibid. 6:6). “You shall teach them thoroughly to your children and speak of them” (ibid. 6:7). The full time worker derives his love of Hashem through prayer as the verse states (ibid. 11:13), “I (Hashem) command you today to love Hashem and serve Him (i.e. prayer) with all your heart and soul”.  The love of Hashem is connected with prayer as the Talmud Taanit 2a asks, “What is the service of the heart?” The Talmud (ibid.) answers that this service is prayer. In addition the latter paragraph mentions Torah study several verses later (i.e. ibid. 11:19).
  • Type of study – The Torah scholar spends most of his time studying, teaching, and writing about the oral law and Halacha. The Torah (ibid. 6:7) alludes to this vocation by using the word “ושננתם” translated as “teach thoroughly”. The root verb שנן means to sharpen and is related to the root verb שנה to teach and repeat. Hence the Torah scholar must teach thoroughly (i.e. scripture, Mishna, and Talmud) by sharpening himself and his students through constant study and review (Kiddushin 30a). In addition the basis of the oral law, namely Mishna (משנה), uses the same root word (שנה). By contrast the worker teaches his children the written law in a less intense manner as the Torah uses the root verb למד to teach (ibid. 11:19).
  • Reward, sin, and punishment – The former paragraph did not mention these topics because a bonafide Torah scholar does not seek reward for his studies (Avot 1:3). Rather he serves Hashem out of love knowing that Hashem will grant his reward in the world to come (ibid. 2:21 in the prayer book and 2:16 in the printed Mishna). Even then the Torah scholar does not focus on his future reward but rather concentrates upon the task at hand (i.e. serving Hashem and teaching many students – ibid. 1:1). In addition the Torah does not expect the vast majority of Torah scholars to succumb to the sin of idolatry. By contrast the latter paragraph speaks to the general population of Israelites who are motivated by reward (Deuteronomy 11:14-15), may stumble into sin (ibid. 11:16), and thereby bear the consequences (ibid. 11:17).   
  • Priority – By placing the mitzvah of Torah study and teaching (ibid. 6:6-7) before the mitzvah of phylacteries (tefillin) (ibid. 6:8), the Torah emphasizes that the former activities are the main preoccupation of the Torah scholar. By contrast, the Torah reverses the order for the working man with the mitzvah of phylacteries (tefillin) preceding Torah study (ibid. 11:18 and 11:19 respectively).
  • Torah teacher – In the first paragraph the Torah (ibid. 6:7) commands the father (i.e. Torah scholar) to primarily speak words of Torah and not on other matters, as explained in Talmud Yoma 19b. By contrast, in the second paragraph the Torah (ibid. 11:19) commands the father to teach his children Torah so that they should speak words of Torah.    

The distinction between Torah scholar and worker are explained in a general sense as two extremes. It must be emphasized that there are many levels between a full time Torah scholar and full time worker depending upon one’s financial situation, age, and aptitude (e.g. wealthy or not, retired or semi retired, natural inclination to study and explore).

Torah/Work Balance

At this point the reader may ask, “How does one achieve a balance between intensive Torah study and making a living?” In fact, this question applies at both an individual and national basis. For an individual, the secular world debates the work vs. family balance. In the Torah world, the balance involves work, family, and Torah study. At a national level the government in Israel must balance the necessity of maintaining a vibrant economy and supporting Torah scholars. Classical Torah sources have dealt with these issues finding a balance between competing physical and spiritual needs. The following paragraphs provide some example of these sources with interpretation.

Individual Level

In the past many Torah scholars pursued their Torah studies in poverty as stated in Avot 6:4, “This is the way of Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, live a life of deprivation – but toil in Torah!”

The Talmud (Berachot 35b) cites a debate about this Torah study-work balance. Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, attributed by many as author of the Zohar, favours a life completely devoted to Torah study and fulfillment of its commandments. He then develops the following scenarios for work depending upon the level of fulfilling the will of Hashem.

Fulfilling Will of HashemWorkVerse(s)
CompletelyDone by othersIsaiah 61:5-6
PartiallyOwn work done by himselfDeuteronomy 11:14
MinimallyForced to do the work of othersDeuteronomy 28:48

Fulfilling Will of Hashem – Completely

Ideally, others should perform the physical work of the Israelites. The prophet Isaiah predicts, that in the messianic era, gentiles will voluntarily perform these physical tasks to enable the Israelites to study Torah full time as the verses (ibid.) state, “Strangers shall stand and pasture your sheep, and foreigners shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. And you shall be called the priests and servants of Hashem.”  (Automation may perform some of these tasks allowing these strangers and foreigners to also study and follow the ways of Hashem.)

Fulfilling Will of Hashem – Partially

For those that are not thoroughly righteous, the Torah suggests combining Torah study with work as the verse states (ibid.), “I (Hashem) will provide rain … that you may gather in your grain, wine, and oil.” Even though this paragraph speaks of those that follow the ways of Hashem as the verse states (ibid. 11:13),” If you will hearken to My (Hashem) commandments that I command you today to love and Hashem and serve Him with all your heart and soul”, prosperity is a mixed blessing because farm work takes time away from Torah study. By contrast when the Torah speaks of divine blessing (Leviticus 26:3-13), the farm work appears to be done by others. The verse states (ibid. 26:5), “Threshing (for your benefit) will last until the vintage and the vintage will last until the sowing”, implying that the Israelites are not directly involved with the labour.   

Fulfilling Will of Hashem – Minimally

If the Israelites do not fulfill the will of Hashem they are subject to exile and persecution as the verse states (ibid. 28:48), “You will serve your enemies in hunger and thirst.” In addition to their own work the Israelites will be forced to serve foreign masters often without pay as has been witnessed in the history of their long Diaspora.   


Although Rabbi Ishmael acknowledges the ideal of Rabbi Simon ben Yochai, the former argues that this ideal is not practical for most people (Berachot 35b). The Maharsha (ibid.) explains that most people are not fully righteous (i.e. not at the level of Rabbi Simon ben Yochai) and therefore cannot expect direct divine intervention for their financial support. Rather they must combine a worldly occupation with Torah study. In fact, the Talmud concludes by saying that many tried to follow the ideal of Rabbi Simon ben Yochai and were not successful. Those who followed Rabbi Ishmael were successful with both their Torah study and occupation with the stipulation that fixed times are set for this study (Avot 1:15).    

Maimonides (Laws of Sabbatical Year 13:13) writes about the Torah study-work balance, with divine assistance for sustenance, as follows, “Not only the tribe of Levi, but any one of the inhabitants of the world whose spirit generously motivates him and understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before Hashem to serve Him and minister to Him … removing from his neck the yoke of the many reckonings which people seek, will be sanctified as holy of holies. Hashem … will provide what is sufficient for him in this world (without becoming a burden on society).”

Fortunately the world is now more affluent and organized than in the past with the result that Torah scholars can combine their study with a paid occupation (e.g. teaching, writing, leading a congregation, and outreach).

National Level

Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah says (Avot 3:21 in prayer book and 3:17 in printed Mishna), “If there is no flour then there is no Torah; If there is no Torah then there is no flour.” In this Mishna, flour represents physical needs and Torah spiritual needs, implying that both are essential and interdependent. The first statement of the Mishna is obvious that man has immediate physical needs that cannot be ignored.  The second statement is not obvious because from a secular viewpoint man can survive without Torah. However from a Torah viewpoint the Israelites cannot survive long term as Israelites without studying and observing Torah. In fact the Torah predicts the downfall of the Israelites if they fail to study Torah and observe Hashem’s commandments (Deuteronomy 11:16-17), “Beware …lest you serve other gods. Then the wrath earth of Hashem will blaze against you and the earth will not yield its produce.” In addition, Simon the Righteous says (Avot 1:2), “On three things the world stands: Torah study, divine service, and acts of kindness.”

Complete Love

The Torah speaks of love for Hashem with the word “all” (כל) as in Deuteronomy 6:5, “With all (בכל) your heart, and all (ובכל) your soul and all (ובכל) of your resources.” The author would like to point out that both the word “all” (כל) and the three times this word is mentioned in the verse relates to the Talmud (Bava Batra 17a) that discusses the great merit of reward of the patriarchs as shown in the following table.

PatriarchVerse (Genesis)WordContext
Abraham24:1בכלHashem’s blessing
Isaac27:33מכלIsaac eating
Jacob33:11כלJacob meeting Esau

The Talmud interprets the word “all” (כל) to mean complete (i.e. spiritually), in addition to the literal meaning of a physical blessing and therefore conclude that the forefathers:

  • Received a taste of the world to come in their lifetime.
  • Conquered their evil inclination.
  • Did not die by the angel of death. Rather they passed away through the “kiss of Hashem”.
  • Were impervious to worms and maggots in their burial.  

Hence the Torah alludes to this complete love and encourages the Israelites to emulate their ways through the 3 fold use of the word all” (כל).  

Practical Advice for Love of Hashem

There are many works of inspiration that provide practical advice to increase one’s love of Hashem. For sake of brevity the author will focus on these sources and provide a few citations:

  1. Maimonides Mishneh Torah
  2. Likutei Amarim Tanya.

Mishneh Torah

Maimonides, in his Mishneh Torah, covers all of 613 commandments of the Torah in detail including philosophical concepts. Hence his magnum opus is widely studied due to its breadth and depth. He offers the following advice to fulfill the commandment of loving Hashem shown in order of his writing in the Mishneh Torah:

  • Reflect on Hashem’s greatness.
  • Attach to Torah scholars.
  • Serve Hashem with passion.
  • Know Hashem.

Reflect on Hashem’s Greatness

Maimonides offers the following advice (Fundamentals of Torah 2:2), “When a person contemplates Hashem’s wondrous and great deeds … and appreciates His infinite wisdom that surpasses all comparison, he will immediately love Hashem.”

Attach to Torah Scholars

In addition to the intellectual pursuit of loving Hashem, Maimonides provides practical suggestions from a psychological viewpoint. One will increase his love of Hashem by attaching to Torah scholars and thereby acquires Torah wisdom and proper behaviour. Maimonides writes (Laws of Proper Conduct – De’ot 6:1), “It is natural for a man’s character and actions to be influenced by his friends and associates and for him to follow the local norms of behavior. Therefore, he should associate with the righteous and be constantly in the company of the wise, so as to learn from their deeds. Conversely, he should keep away from the wicked who walk in darkness, so as not to learn from their deeds. King Solomon says (Proverbs 13:20): He who goes with the wise (חכמים) will become wise (וחכם), but he who befriends the fools will be broken. ” 

Serve Hashem with Passion

Maimonides further describes the love of Hashem (Laws of Returning to Hashem 10:2) as follows, “One who serves Hashem out of love occupies himself in the Torah and mitzvoth, walks in the paths of wisdom for no ulterior motive; not because of fear that evil will occur, nor in order to acquire benefit. Rather, he does what is true because it is true, and ultimately, good will come because of it.

This is a very high level which is not merited by every wise man. It is the level of our Patriarch, Abraham, whom Hashem described in Isaiah 41:8 as: He who loved Me (divine), for his service was only motivated by love.

Hashem commanded us to seek this level of service as conveyed by Moses as the Torah states (Deuteronomy 6:5): Love Hashem. When a man will love Hashem in the proper manner, he will immediately perform all of the mitzvoth motivated by love.”

In the next Halacha (ibid. 10:3), Maimonides defines the proper way to love Hashem as follows, “What is the proper degree of love? That a person should love Hashem with a very great love until his soul is bound up in the love of Hashem. Thus, he will always be obsessed with this love as if he is lovesick.

A lovesick person’s thoughts are never diverted from the love of that woman. He is always obsessed with her; when he sits down, when he gets up, when he eats and drinks. With an even greater love, the love for Hashem should be implanted in the hearts of those who love Him and are obsessed with Him at all times as we are commanded Deuteronomy 6:5: Love God … with all your heart and with all soul.

This concept was implied by Solomon Song of Songs 2:5 when he stated, as a metaphor: “I am lovesick.” Indeed, the totality of the Song of Songs is a parable describing this love between man and Hashem.”

(Note: The author would like to point out that any analogy between the physical world (e.g. infatuation with a woman) and spiritual world (e.g. love of Hashem) has its limitations. A physical infatuation may not be healthy since it is driven by lust and not by love. In addition, the woman may not care for the man leading to disastrous results (e.g. painful rejection, stalking, or even violence). By contrast love of Hashem will lead to improvement in one’s life by fulfilling the Torah’s commandments and Hashem will always reciprocate. As King Solomon says about the Torah and its commandments (Proverbs 3:17-18), “Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace. It is a tree of life for those who grasp it, and those who draw near it are fortunate.”)    

Know Hashem

In this Halacha (ibid 10:6), Maimonides outlines the means of attaining this love for Hashem through knowledge of Hashem. He writes as follows,” It is a well-known and clear matter that the love of Hashem will not become attached within a person’s heart until he becomes obsessed with it at all times, leaving all things in the world except for this. This was implied by the command Deuteronomy 6:5: Love Hashem …with all your heart and soul.

One can only love Hashem based upon one’s the knowledge of Hashem. A small amount of knowledge arouses a lesser love. A greater amount of knowledge arouses a greater love.

Therefore, it is necessary for a person to apply himself to attain wisdom and concepts which make his creator known to him, according to the potential which man possesses as explained in the laws of Fundamentals of the Torah (4:12), describing the physical and spiritual worlds.” 

Likutei Amarim Tanya

This source, first published in 1796, is a work of Hasidic philosophy and practice by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi founder of Chabad Hasidism.

The author has selected this source to elaborate on the mitzvah to love Hashem because this source:

  • Deals with this mitzvah in great detail.
  • Has influenced many secular Jews to return to their roots.
  • Is available online (for free) with both text and extensive commentary in English. (text) (commentary)
  • Is widely taught at the many Chabad outreach centres worldwide.

Chapter 10 of this source develops the mindset for the different levels of loving Hashem as follows:

  • Detach from physicality.
  • Disdain evil by focusing on serving and loving Hashem.
  • Be aware of the many levels in loving Hashem.
  • Control evil immediately

The author will provide some citations from chapter 10 to illustrate these points.

Detach from Physicality and Disdain Evil

“A completely righteous man, in whom the evil has been converted to goodness, has completely divested himself of evil. That is to say, he utterly disdains the pleasures of this world, finding no enjoyment in merely gratifying physical appetites. Rather he seeks the service of Hashem through his love of Hashem. The Tanya quotes Psalms 139:21-22 to express this disdain: Did I not hate Your (referring to Hashem) enemies, Hashem? With those who rise up against You (Hashem), I quarrel. I hate them with utmost hatred; they have become my enemies.”

 The literal meaning of the verse applies to enemies of Hashem and his Torah whether Jewish or gentile. However the Tanya uses the verse to illustrate the views of the completely righteous to physical pleasures that may lead a person astray.It should be noted that physical pleasures dedicated to serving Hashem are in fact holy (e.g., the pleasure of “enjoying the Shabbat” with food and drink). It is not such pleasure that is repugnant to the righteous man but pleasure only for self-indulgence.

Be Aware of the Many Levels in Loving Hashem

The Tanya recognizes that there are numerous levels in serving Hashem with love. Completely righteous individuals in a generation are very few. The Talmud states (Sukkah 45b) in the name of Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai, reputed author of the Zohar, “I have seen the truly righteous, and they are few. … If they number one hundred, I and my son are among them; and even if they number two, I and my son are they. Nevertheless it is important to establish an ideal and then work to that goal. 

Control Evil Immediately – Nip it in the Bud

Chapter 12 of this source provides practical advice for the “intermediate man” who must constantly battle his animal soul especially in the areas of thought, speech, and action.  The Tanya stresses the importance of attaching to Hashem through prayer, meditation on the greatness of Hashem, study of the Torah, and following its commandments. However the Tanya realizes that this enraptured state may not persist and needs constant reinforcement. A few citations follow:

“Only at specific times do the faculties of the divine soul hold undisputed sovereignty over the “intermediate individual” with the animal soul having no effect whatsoever on him, such as during the recital of the Shema or Amidah in the prayer service.

At this time of prayer, the supernal intellect is in a sublime state meditating deeply on the greatness of Hashem and arousing through this meditation a burning love for Hashem. This love, in turn, leads this individual to cleave to Hashem by fulfilling the Torah and its commandments out of love.

But this state of affairs lasts only for the duration of the spiritually charged time of prayer. However, after prayer, a person may lust for this world and its delights.”  

The Tanya quotes the Talmud (Bava Batra 164b), “There are three sins from which a person is not spared each day namely, sinful thoughts (e.g. of the opposite gender), lack of concentration in prayer, and uttering a hint of malicious speech” indicating the difficulty in daily struggle against the animal soul. However the Tanya suggests that as soon as the thoughts enter the mind, one should not allow them to take root and divert his mind to other matters. In the vernacular, “Nip a problem in the bud.” 

Specifically The Tanya states, “Instead, immediately upon these thoughts rising to the mind, a person should thrust it aside as it were with both hands, and avert his mind from it the instant he realizes that it is an evil thought. He should refuse to accept it even as a mere thought and certainly not entertain the notion of acting on it or even speaking of it.”

A practical example of self-control involves the seeing of an attractive member of the opposite gender. The initial view could be beyond a person’s will. However the subsequent views and thoughts are under a person’s control. 

Author’s Suggestion

The author would like to point out that love of Hashem and subduing the animal soul is ca lifelong quest with the following considerations:

  1. This is a gradual process like Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:12), “Set earthward and its top reached the heavens”. One must climb the ladder rung by rung. If one proceeds too quickly he may fall of the ladder (Ruach Hachaim 1:13 commentary on Avot by Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin).
  2. There may be setbacks along the way when the evil inclination prevails temporarily. Nevertheless one must not despair because this is the way of the world. As mentioned above (Berachot 63a), “In all you ways acknowledge Him (Hashem), even when committing a sin and He (Hashem) will direct your paths”, meaning never to lose hope and always maintain a connection to Hashem. In this manner Hashem will aide a person to return to his service as the Talmud says (Yoma 38b),”If one comes to purify oneself, they (in heaven) assist him.”
  3. The study of Torah on a regular basis is the best antidote against the evil inclination as the Talmud (Kiddushin 30b) says in the name of Hashem, “I have created the evil inclination and the Torah as its antidote.” In effect the study of Torah is a medicine for the soul. Therefore any serious study of the classical texts may lead a person to the proper love of Hashem. In addition to general study of the Torah, each person should seek texts and study/discussion groups that resonate with him.
  4. A person can strengthen his love for Hashem through prayer as the verse says (Deuteronomy 11:13),”To love Hashem and to serve Him with all your heart and soul.” The Talmud Taanit 2a asks, “What is the service of the heart?” The Talmud (ibid.) answers that this service is prayer.
  5.  Associate with the righteous and be constantly in the company of the wise, so as to learn from their deeds. Conversely, he should keep away from the wicked who walk in darkness, so as not to learn from their deeds.”

Since each soul is different the above suggestions may not work the same for each person just as different medication and dosage is required to treat varying medical and patient conditions. Hence the above texts should be seen as a suggestion.

Love vs. Reverence

The Jerusalem Talmud (Sotah 5:5) raises an apparent contradiction between two methods of serving Hashem (i.e. love and reverence). Deuteronomy 6:5 commands love of Hashem, “You shall love Hashem” while (ibid. 6:13) commands reverence, “You shall revere Hashem.” With love, one performs the commandments with enthusiasm which could lead to over familiarity and a lack of respect for the mitzvoth. In addition man by nature can love many things. Hence he may enjoy some mitzvoth but not follow others because the prohibitions may interfere with desire for human pleasures. With reverence, one serves Hashem with awe and trepidation. However with reverence alone a person could come to rebel against Hashem either because of difficulties in life (i.e. blaming Hashem) or excessive success, as the verse says (ibid. 32:15), “Jeshurun (Israel) became fat and rebelled … and deserted Hashem.” In addition this type of service lacks passion and does not enable a person to grow. Hence the Jerusalem Talmud concludes that both modes are essential and, in fact, each one reinforces the other.  Maimonides (commentary on Avot 1:3) concludes that service of love relates primarily to the positive commandments and reverence relates primarily to the prohibitions.             

From Hashem’s Perspective

Until now, this article has discussed love of Hashem from man’s perspective. In a love relationship each party gives to the other. In fact the Hebrew word for love (אהב) contains the letters (הב) which means to give. What can man give to Hashem? Based upon Deuteronomy 6:5,”You shall love Hashem” The Talmud (Yoma 86a) states, “You shall make the name of Heaven beloved by influencing others. How should one do so? One should read the Torah, learn the Mishna, and serve Torah scholars (i.e. Talmud). In addition he should be pleasant with people in his business transactions. What do people say about such a person? Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah, fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah (including Mishna), woe to the people who have not studied Torah. This person who studied Torah, see how pleasant are his ways and proper are his deeds. The verse (Isaiah 49:3) states about him and others like him: You are My (divine) servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

In addition, in a love relationship each party expresses their devotion for the other. The Israelites express their love for Hashem through Torah study, prayer, and observing the commandments. In turn Hashem expresses his love for mankind, the Israelites, and in particular those Israelites who follow the Torah as expressed in the following quote from Rabbi Akiva (Avot 3:18 in prayer book and 3:14 in printed Mishna):

  • Man is beloved (חביב) by Hashem because he was created in His image. An even greater love was shown by Hashem in that Hashem informed man as the verse states (Genesis 9:6), “For in the image of Hashem, He (Hashem) made man.”  
  • The Israelites are beloved (חביב) by Hashem because they are called his children. An even greater love was shown by Hashem in that Hashem informed the Israelites as the verse states (Deuteronomy 14:1), “You are children to Hashem.”
  • The Israelites are beloved (חביב) by Hashem because they received the Torah, a cherished gift from Hashem. An even greater love was shown by Hashem in that Hashem informed them of this gift as the verse states (Proverbs 4:2), “For I have given you a good teaching; do not forsake My Torah.”

It is interesting to note that this word beloved (חביב) does not occur but in scripture. However the root word (חבב) does occur in the Torah (Deuteronomy 33:3), “You (Hashem) loved the tribes (of Israel).” The Aramaic translation of the Torah uses the word beloved (חביב) in several places. For example in Exodus 19:5, “You (the Israelites) shall be to Me (Hashem) the most beloved treasure (סגלה) of all peoples”, Targum Onkelos translates the word treasure (סגלה) as חביבין. In addition Targum Yonatan ben Uziel translates the verse (Deuteronomy 14:1), “You are children to Hashem” as “You are like beloved (חביבין) children to me, linking this verse to the quote of Rabbi Akiva with the word (חביב).

Moses, in the book of Deuteronomy speaks of Hashem’s love for the Israelites in several verses. For example (ibid. 7:6-8), “Hashem has chosen you (the Israelites) to be a treasured (סגלה in Hebrew and beloved חביב in Aramaic) people). Not because you (the Israelites) are more numerous than all the nations did Hashem desire you. Rather because of Hashem’s love for you.” Moses continued on this theme (ibid. 7:12-13), “This shall be the reward when you hearken to these ordinances … Hashem will love, bless and multiply you.”


The reciprocal love relationship between the Israelites and Hashem are reflected in the daily prayer. The Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 1:5) finds an allusion to the seven daily blessings recited before and after the Shema in verse Psalms (119:164), “Seven times a day I praise You (Hashem) for Your righteous judgments.” The sages divided these 7 blessings as 3 in the Morning Prayer and 4 in the Evening Prayer. In addition the sages assigned 2 blessings before the Shema and the remainder after the Shema for both prayers.  The second blessing which immediately precedes the Shema speaks of the love of Hashem towards the Israelites as follows. By contrast the Shema declaration speaks of the love of the Israelites towards Hashem.  

Morning Prayer

Ashkenazi ritual -“With a great love, Hashem has loved us (the Israelites) … Blessed are you Hashem, Who chooses his people Israel with love.”

Sephardic ritual – “With everlasting love, Hashem has loved us (the Israelites) … Blessed are you Hashem, Who chooses his people Israel with love.”

Evening Prayer – Ashkenazi and Sephardic ritual

“With everlasting love You (Hashem) loved the House of Israel … Blessed are you Hashem, Who loves His nation Israel.”

The author would like to point out that divine love for the Israelites is conditional upon their observance of the Torah and not on an ethnic basis. If the Israelites do not meet divine expectations the Torah promises that eventually corrective action will follow (Leviticus 26:14-44 and Deuteronomy 28:15-68). The dire past of the Israelites is a testimony to this promise.

Even though Hashem has expressed his love for the Israelites the other nations may also receive divine blessings as the verse states (Genesis 12:3), “I will bless those who bless you” meaning Hashem will bless the other nations that bless (or help) the Israelites. In addition the Talmud (Sanhedrin 59a) highly praises gentiles who study and observe the 7 Noahide Laws as Rabbi Meir says,” A gentile who engages in Torah study (i.e. 7 Noahide Laws) is considered like a High Priest of the Israelites.”         

Hints and allusions – רמז

This section will analyze the structure of the verses in the Shema that relate to love of Hashem.

Comparison of Verses 6:5 and 11:13

These verses may be analyzed in terms of their structure as shown in the following table.  

TechniqueVerse 6:5Verse 11:13Meaning
Opening and closing letterך ו (6 + 20 =26)ם ו (6 + 40 =46)Divine energy
Number of words in verse1020Life mission
Number of letters in verse3980Activity

 Opening and closing letter

Both verses contain a reference to Hashem’s name and his divine energy when loving Hashem, by using the opening and closing letters of the verses to yield 26 and 46 respectively. The number 26 represents the gematria of the Tetragrammaton, the actual name of Hashem         (ה-ו-ה-י), indicating the importance of loving Hashem through awareness of his transcendence. By contrast the opening and closing letters of the second verse amount to 46 (ה-ו-ה-י-כ) meaning like Hashem but not Hashem directly as in the verse (Deuteronomy 4:7), “For which is a great nation (like the Israelites) that Hashem is close to it like Hashem (ה-ו-ה-י-כ) whenever we call to Him?” This difference also applies to the occupations of the respective subjects of the paragraphs, Torah scholar and worker.   

Number of words in verse

The numbers of words in the verses are 10 and 20, respectively. The number 10 refers to the Torah in reference to the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4) indicating that this individual’s main occupation is the study of the Torah and consequent observance of mitzvoth. By contrast, the number 20 refers to the occupations of the general population (e.g. farming and trades) where the person works with his hands (ידו) as discussed above. The gematria of the word his hand (ידו) is 20 alluding to verse (Deuteronomy 16:17), “Everyone according to his means (ידו) which Hashem gives you”. This verse indicates that on the festivals in Jerusalem one offers animals on the altar commensurate with his prosperity achieved through work (ידו) and Hashem’s blessings.   

Number of letters in verse

The numbers of letters in the verses are 39 and 80, corresponding to the gematria of the words dew (טל) and all (לכל) meaning everyone and every situation, respectively. Although there are many verses that use these two words (viz.  dew or everyone), the objective is to find verses that reflect the overall context of the two types of people that love Hashem (i.e. Torah scholars and workers) as discussed above. In reference to dew Isaiah 26:19 says, “Your dead shall live, the corpses shall rise; awaken and sing, you who dwell in the dust, for dew (טל) of lights is your dew, and to the earth Hashem shall cast the weak ones (spiritually). The Talmud Ketubot 111b states that both scholars of Torah and their supporters will merit the resurrection.  The “dew of light” refers to Torah scholars who are resurrected because of their intense Torah study and observance. Supporters of Torah are attached to Hashem and will also merit resurrection according to Deuteronomy 4:4, “All of you who cleave to Hashem are alive to this day”. The word “alive” alludes to the resurrection.  These supporters include one who directly offers financial support, marries his daughter to a Torah scholar, or conducts business on his behalf. By contrast “the weak ones” refer to those who knowingly abandon Judaism and thereby could miss the resurrection. (The decision ultimately lies with Hashem and no man has the right to judge another person in this matter.) The Talmud (Shabbat 88b) states that some of the Israelites were overwhelmed at the revelation of Sinai that their souls temporarily left their bodies. Hashem used the dew of resurrection to restore their souls. From this citation we see the connection of dew, resurrection, and Torah.

The number 80 refers to the word all (לכל) meaning everyone and every situation as in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “Everything (לכל) has an appointed season, and there is a time for every (לכל) matter under the heaven.” This word fits the theme of the Deuteronomy 11:13-21 which speaks of the general population who are occupied with making a living in different occupations and settings. By contrast Deuteronomy 6:4-9 speaks of the Torah scholar whose main occupation is study of the Torah and performing its many mitzvoth. 

Comparison of First Two Paragraphs

In addition to comparing the individual verses, one may also compare the two paragraphs (viz. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 vs. 11:13-21) in terms of gematria. In the first paragraph, representing the Torah scholars’ intense love for Hashem, the last 5 verses begin with the letter vav (ו) and end with the letter chaf (ך) amounting to a gematria of 26 which corresponds to the Tetragrammaton as explained above. This implies that the Torah scholar is imbued with the divine spirit in all areas of his divine service (e.g. Torah study, teaching, donning phylacteries, and installing a mezuzah). In the author’s recollection, this is the only time in the Torah where 5 consecutive verses have a gematria of 26 when adding the gematria of the opening and closing letters of the verse. There are many verses in the Torah with a gematria of 26 but only in this paragraph with 5 consecutive verses. 

By contrast, in the second paragraph only 3 verses have this gematria of 26 (viz. ibid. 11:14, 19, 20). In addition in all of the verses in this paragraph are stated in the plural except for these 3 which are in the singular and verse 15 which continues the theme of prosperity. Verse 19 combines both singular and plural formations in that the father who teaches is in plural and the discussing of Torah is in singular. This implies that of the working population only some individuals will be privileged to serve Hashem with the proper intensity and financial means. Hence verses 14 and 15 speak of the produce (i.e. wealth), verse 19 mentions discussing Torah when at home or travelling, and verse 20 speaks of the house. Only certain individuals will have the means to support Torah scholars on a grand scale and have a large enough house to serve as a meeting place for scholars (Avot 1:4). 

The reader may ask, “The first paragraph actually begins with the verse: Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One.” In this verse, the opening letter is shin (ש) and the closing letter is dalet (ד) which spells (שד) meaning demon. How does this sequence of letters (שד) relate to the 5 following verses which allude to the Tetragrammaton? The Baal Haturim (ibid.) answers this question by quoting Rabbi Yitzchak who says, “Anyone who recites Shema (ibid 6:4-9) upon his bed, demons stay away from him (Berachot 5a). Hence this paragraph serves as a potent defense against negative influences. (The subject of demonology is beyond the scope of this article. However the author will provide an article about demons in a future update of this web site based upon citations from the Talmud and Midrash.) The issue of demons living in our age and interacting with humans has been debated by Talmudic scholars. However the author would prefer to limit this discussion of demons to psychological demons and addictions (e.g. forbidden marital relations, substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, etc). Based on this letter sequence, the Torah teaches us that a Torah scholar must subdue his demons (שד) before reaching the exalted level of love for Hashem leading to intense divine service ך ו (6 + 20 =26).   

Third Paragraph of Shema      

It is interesting to note that none of the verses in the third paragraph of the Shema (Numbers 15:37-41) have the opening and closing letters of ך ו which would have lead to a gematria of 26, indicating a difference in the level of divine energy between these paragraphs. The Talmud Berachot (14b) notes that the order of the paragraphs in the Shema follows the hierarchy of the commandments in these paragraphs (i.e. studying the Torah intensely, teaching the Torah, and performing its commandments) as shown in the following table.

1 – Deuteronomy 6:4-9
2 – Deuteronomy 11:13-21X
3 – Numbers 15:37-41XX

In addition the structure of the verses in terms of the opening and closing letters (i.e. gematria of 26 or 46 as explained above) reflects this hierarchy as shown in the following table. This table shows the paragraphs, number of verse per paragraph, and the number of verses with the opening closing latter with a gematria of 26 and 46.

ParagraphVersesGematria 26Gematria 46
1 – Deuteronomy 6:4-9650
2 – Deuteronomy 11:13-21933
3 – Numbers 15:37-41501

Secrets of Torah – סוד

Nature of the Soul

Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:37 on Deuteronomy 6:5 notes that one must love Hashem with all of one’s soul. The Talmud understands this verse in terms of martyrdom. By contrast the Midrash and Zohar understand the verse in terms of connecting the divine soul to its source. The reader may ask, “How do we define or perceive the soul?” The Midrash (ibid.) and Talmud Berachot 10a answer this question by drawing a comparison between Hashem and the world and by analogy the soul to the body. Both Hashem and the soul are spiritual and can only be explained to physical man in terms of analogy. The details of this analogy and description of the 5 level of the soul are covered in a companion article on this web site, “Five Levels of the Soul”.

Five Levels of Soul

The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 14:9 and Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:37) identifies 5 levels of the soul. The latter Midrash (on Deuteronomy 6:5) explains that on should love Hashem with all his soul, meaning with all 5 levels of the soul. When discussing these 5 levels the author would like to make the following points:

  • It is difficult to explain these levels in concrete terms because the soul is a spiritual gift from Hashem while the language of man is primarily physical.
  • It is even more to difficult to explain these levels in English (or any other language than Hebrew) because these languages are manmade and cannot effectively convey the nuance of these levels. By contrast Hebrew is the both the language of Hashem who gave the soul to man and the language of scripture which uses these 5 terms.
  • Despite these disclaimers, one can obtain an understanding of this topic through analogies as explained above in the paragraph “Nature of the Soul’, through similar words in scripture or Mishna, and related passages in the Talmud, Midrash, and Zohar.  
  • Words in scripture at a literal level refer to the natural world. Hence the terms animal soul, spirit, and, and divine soul may even refer to animals. However at the kabbalistic level these terms refer to the 5 levels of the soul as explained below.      

With these limitations in mind, the following table provides the Hebrew and English name, feature, and related verse in scripture for each level of the soul.

נפשSoul (animal)Growth or desireDeuteronomy 12:23
רוחSpiritCharacter or moodEcclesiastes 3:21
נשמהIntellect (divine soul)Prayer and  Torah studyGenesis 2:7
חיהLife (spiritual eternal)Spiritual lifeGenesis 2:7
יחידהUniqueOne with HashemPsalms 22:21


The Zohar 1:206a, as explained by the commentator מדבש מתוק, describes the first 3 levels of the soul in terms of spiritual growth and in ascending order. A person operates at the first level of the soul (נפש) through mitzvoth performed in a physical manner, whether between man and Hashem (e.g. eating matzoth at Passover seder) or man to man (e.g. giving charity). The second level of the soul (רוח) is activated through prayer and basic Torah study because the word “רוח” also means wind (i.e. movement of air) which corresponds to the movement of air when one prays or studies Torah. The third level of the soul (נשמה) is energized through intense Torah study using one’s mind (e.g. the oral law – Mishna and Talmud). In fact in Hebrew the letters for Mishna (משנה) and soul of intellect (נשמה) are the same. The other 2 levels are accessed by highly spiritual individuals.    

The reader may ask, “Since non-Jews are not required to study the oral law, how do they activate their souls?” The Talmud (Sanhedrin 59a) answers this question by quoting Rabbi Meir who states that a gentile who engages in Torah study and observance of the seven laws of Noahides is considered like a High Priest based upon Leviticus 18:5, “You shall observe My (divine) decrees and laws, which man shall keep and live through them.” Rabbi Meir explains that the word “man” mentioned in this verse includes both Jews and gentiles.

Man’s Mission    

The Zohar 2:27a interprets the word your resources (מאדך) from the root word “much” (מאד), implying that one should love Hashem without limits because the divine soul is similarly unlimited in its capacity. It is interesting to note that the letters of מאד when rearranged spell man (אדם), indicating man’s mission for spiritual achievement. In addition these words מאד and   אדם share the gematria of 45 which corresponds to the gematria of the Tetragrammaton in the milui (full spelling) system as shown below (20+6+13+6 =45). (The milui system of gematria takes each letter in Hebrew and spells it out in full.) The table presents the letters of the Tetragrammaton, the spelling in milui form, and associated gematria.



The mitzvah of love of Hashem is a cornerstone of Judaism and is one of the six commandments that apply at all times and to all Israelites including Torah scholars and workers. This article examined these different roles though the structure of the Shema as recited in the prayers twice daily with preceding and following blessings. In addition this article quoted from classical sources to provide practical suggestions to serving Hashem with love:

  • Reflect on Hashem’s greatness.
  • Know Hashem through Torah study.
  • Attach to Torah scholars.
  • Detach from physicality.
  • Control evil immediately.
  • Be aware of the many levels in loving Hashem and have patience.

In essence, the striving for serving Hashem with passion is a lifelong quest which is aided by divine inspiration and mutual love as the Talmud says (Yoma 38b),”If one comes to purify oneself, they (in heaven) assist him.”

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