“You should love the Lord Your God,” we are told in the second paragraph of Shema. But there is an obvious problem with this passage: how can love be commanded?
Imagine a young couple on their first date, with all their anxious smiles and nervous toe-tapping. Just before they part ways, the young man tells the woman, “You gotta love me!” Suddenly, this budding relationship comes to a screeching halt.
Love is something that is earned through time, trust, and commitment. It is not something that can be given through demands. So how can Hashem command us to love?
Rav Kook (Musar Avicha, Ahava 4) teaches that a blazing flame of love for Hashem is constantly burning in the soul, giving pleasantness and sweetness that no words can describe.
If this is so, then why don’t we experience these intense feelings all the time (or for some, at all)?
He teaches that we disconnect ourselves from this light through an unbalanced relationship with our world. We weigh ourselves down with futile contemplations, and we prioritize the physical over the needs of the spirit. Such a lifestyle is in complete opposition to the nature of the soul.
According to Rav Kook, the commandment to love Hashem is not a directive to stir up an appropriate emotional response. It is a dictate to peel away the layers of darkness that are masking the light that is constantly shining. It is returning to our natural state of balance between body and soul, which is a place of experiencing constant love for Hashem.