Hebrew In Israel | Love YHWH – Learn Torah

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Hebrew In Israel | Love YHWH – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi No Comments

One of the basic stipulations of any covenant in the world is the principle of trust and loyalty between the two or more parties.  Many books and papers have been written on the subject of covenants and treaties, but in this short paper I will examine one of the most important words used in covenant language–Love. 

When examining the principle of the covenant of the Torah, we find that the Torah commands Israel several times to love YHWH.

וְאָהַבְתָּ, אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָללְבָבְךָ וּבְכָלנַפְשְׁךָ, וּבְכָלמְאֹדֶךָ

“and you are to love YHWH your God with all your heart, all your being and all your resources” Deuteronomy 6:5

וְהָיָה, אִםשָׁמֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶלמִצְותַי, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם, הַיּוֹםלְאַהֲבָה אֶתיְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, וּלְעָבְדוֹ, בְּכָללְבַבְכֶם, וּבְכָלנַפְשְׁכֶם

“So, if you listen carefully to my commandments which I am giving you today, to love YHWH your God and serve him with all your heart and all your being” 

 Deuteronomy 11:13

The word אהבהAhavah comes from the verbal root אה״ב ahb which literally means “to love”.  Between non-relatives of the same social group it is understood as being acts of love, and not necessarily an emotional idea.  When it comes to YHWH and mankind, we find principles of attributes such as mercy and kindness, which are an expression of His love for His creation (Hartom and Heinemann, 1950, p.120).  Humans are presented in the Bible as also loving YHWH, but there are some questions on the matter.

This love is something all of Israel are to strive for, however there is the question of what does this love actually mean.  Though many understand that love is the emotional component common between humans, there is a basic question of “how does one show love to something beyond us?”  This question is based on the fact that God is higher and beyond our comprehension, and because of this there is no actual ability to create the common ground which enables love (Chovat Halevavot Lerabbi Yoseph Iben Paqodah).  Humans tend to find love based on commonality, which enables the creation of units which function based on love and loyalty to one another.  One can love a parent based on the fact that they are their parent, and a parent loves a child because they are their child . A man can love a woman due to basic instincts we have as humans, but how does one love something which we rarely if ever come in direct contact with?


The answer to this can be found in two basic ideas expressed in the Torah, and in ancient near eastern (ANE) ideas.  In the Torah, YHWH shows his love to his people by keeping his promise given to the patriarchs.  YWHH brings His people to the land and protects His people.  This is a physical expression of love via loyalty.  The same physical expression can also be found in the above quoted verses where in both cases one’s resources or service are of part of the love.

We see that the love of YHWH is strongly connected to keeping the Torah, which is an expression of loyalty.

Future Generations

This comparison-equation and problem become even more clear in Deuteronomy 11:1-2

וְאָהַבְתָּ, אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ; וְשָׁמַרְתָּ מִשְׁמַרְתּוֹ, וְחֻקֹּתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו וּמִצְותָיו–כָּל-הַיָּמִים וִידַעְתֶּם, הַיּוֹם, כִּי לֹא אֶת-בְּנֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדְעוּ וַאֲשֶׁר לֹא-רָאוּ, אֶת-מוּסַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:  אֶת-גָּדְלוֹ–אֶת-יָדוֹ הַחֲזָקָה, וּזְרֹעוֹ הַנְּטוּיָה

“Therefore, you are to love YHWH your God and always obey his commission, regulations, rulings and commandments.  Today it is you I am addressing — not your children, who haven’t known or experienced the discipline of YHWH your God, his greatness, his strong hand, his outstretched arm”

The issue which can be found in the text is a possible future problem with the children who did not see the acts of YHWH, and therefore will have an emotional limitation due to the fact that they do not have a direct connection to the acts which YHWH did for his people.  This is why earlier in the text we see the following:

כִּי-יִשְׁאָלְךָ בִנְךָ מָחָר, לֵאמֹר:  מָה הָעֵדֹת, וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, אֶתְכֶם וְאָמַרְתָּ לְבִנְךָ, עֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ לְפַרְעֹה בְּמִצְרָיִם; וַיֹּצִיאֵנוּ יְהוָה מִמִּצְרַיִם, בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וַיִּתֵּן יְהוָה אוֹתֹת וּמֹפְתִים גְּדֹלִים וְרָעִים בְּמִצְרַיִם, בְּפַרְעֹה וּבְכָל-בֵּיתוֹ–לְעֵינֵינוּ וְאוֹתָנוּ, הוֹצִיא מִשָּׁם–לְמַעַן, הָבִיא אֹתָנוּ, לָתֶת לָנוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֵינוּ וַיְצַוֵּנוּ יְהוָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת-כָּל-הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה, לְיִרְאָה, אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ–לְטוֹב לָנוּ כָּל-הַיָּמִים, לְחַיֹּתֵנוּ כְּהַיּוֹם הַזֶּה וּצְדָקָה, תִּהְיֶה-לָּנוּ:  כִּי-נִשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת-כָּל-הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ–כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּנוּ.

“If/When someday your child will ask you, ‘What is the meaning of the instructions, laws and rulings which YHWH our God has laid down for you?’  Then you will tell your child, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and YHWH brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand.  YHWH worked great and terrible signs and wonders against Egypt, Pharaoh and all his household, before our very eyes.  He brought us out from there in order to bring us to the land he had sworn to our ancestors that he would give us.  YHWH ordered us to observe all these laws, to fear YHWH our God, always for our own good, so that he might keep us alive, as we are today.  It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to obey all these commandments before YHWH our God, just as he ordered us to do.’” Deuteronomy 6:20-25

The question presented here is not only an issue of keeping Torah, but also the relation the future generations will have with this love.  A person living many years after the events of the exodus, or any other miracle, may have difficulty loving God, and being loyal to Him.  However, by telling the stories and keeping the practice, the Israelites can preserve the love via loyalty to the commandments.

This is the core idea of the basic love:  keep the Torah and by that you are loving YHWH.

The Ancient Near East

The same idea can also be found in ANE treaties.  A specific case is the very important and detailed VTE treaties of Assurbanipal (reign 668-627 BCE) and Esarhaddon (reign 681-669 BCE) where the kings placed under the vassal treaty were commanded to love (iŠŠiia) their king (Winfield, 1976, p.53-57).

Line 24 of the Assurbanipal treaty states:

“You shall love Assurbanipal, the great crown prince designate, son of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, your lord, like yourselves” (Zehnder, 2009, p.349).

The same principle is found in Esarhaddon where the servants are commanded to serve their king and be loyal:

“I [will] be [his servant] and speak good of him, I [will be] loyal to him and [… the fa]ce of Esarhaddon my lord, […];” (Accession Treaty of Esarhaddon, SAA 02, 004).

This love actually means that they had to show loyalty by not rebelling, protecting their overlord, giving away information about rebellions and paying taxes.


Though there is a difference between the kindness of YHWH versus the forcing of treaties by Esarhaddon, the basic principle is the same- Loyalty.

Hence, the most basic idea of love in the Torah is first and foremost loyalty to YWHW by keeping His Torah.  However, this is only the most basic level of such love, and there are many who did and do go beyond, and express a deep love to YHWH.  However, this depth of love is not the common future of most people, and the external act is the minimal requirement from humans.  In time, some develop a deeper understanding and feeling of devotion to a point where their loyalty becomes love.  An example of this can be found with Avraham who is described as one who loved YHWH:

וְאַתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַבְדִּי יַעֲקֹב אֲשֶׁר בְּחַרְתִּיךָ זֶרַע אַבְרָהָם אֹהֲבִי

“But you, Israel, my servant;
Ya‘aqov, whom I have chosen,
descendants of Avraham my friend”
(lit. The one who loves me)

Isaiah 41:8


הרטום אליה שמואל, היינמן יצחק, ״אהבה״ אנציקלופדיה מקראית כרך ב, ירושלים 1950, עמ׳ 121

וינפלד משה, שבועת אמונים לאסרחדון אופייה ומקבילותיה בעולם המזרח הקדום, שנתון לחקר המקרא והמזרח הקדום ירושלים תשל״ו, עמ׳ 88-51

רבי יוסף אבן פקודה, תורת חובת הלבבות

Accession Treaty of Esarhaddon, SAA 02, 004

Zehnder Markus, Building on Stone? Deuteronomy and Esarhaddon’s Loyalty Oaths (Part 1): Some Preliminary Observations, Bulletin for Biblical Research 19.3 (2009) 341–374

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