Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • The Nation of Israel
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Hana Bat Haim

“Who Lovingly Chooses His Nation Israel”

God “lovingly chooses His nation Israel.” Love implies a bond. God's choosing Israel is the bond by which He ties them to Him - via the Torah. The Torah and its study serve to create a bond between Israel and God, and this bond is reciprocal in nature.


Rabbi Chaim Katz

1. "Ahavat Olam" - Blessing Over the Torah
2. Love - Foundation for the Giving of the Torah
3. The Torah - The Inward Name of God
4. "And You Drew Us Near"
5. The Positive Bond - "Be you ravished always with her love"
6. Hardship As an Expression of Love
7. Where Do We Find the Answers?

"Ahavat Olam" - Blessing Over the Torah
Shulchan Arukh rules (Orach Chaim 47:7): "By saying the blessing 'Ahavat Olam,' one discharges his obligation to say the blessing over Torah study, provided that he proceeds to study Torah immediately after blessing, without interruption.

This ruling addresses a person who has forgotten to recite the blessing over the Torah before his morning prayers. It teaches us that if such a person recites the "Ahavat Olam" blessing (or, alternately, "Ahavah Rabba," according to Ashkanzi custom), which appears before the "Shema" reading, and, immediately upon completion of his prayers, studies Torah, he discharges his obligation to say the blessings over Torah study. What this boils down to is that the recitation of "Ahavat Olam" is considered tantamount to that of the blessing over Torah study. Yet, why should this be so?

In a way, it is understandable that "Ahavat Olam" is considered akin to the blessing over the Torah, for in the body of this blessing we supplicate God with regard to Torah study and practice: "Instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform, and fulfill all the words of your Torah's teachings with love. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, attach our hearts to Your commandments..."

Yet, we must endeavor to understand the wording of the blessing which closes "Ahavat Olam" - "Who lovingly chooses His nation Israel." If this is essentially meant to be a blessing over the Torah, we would expect the wording to be something like "He Who gives the Torah to His nation Israel." Furthermore, "Ahavat Olam" contains a number of other ideas which give expression to God's love for Israel, like redemption and ingathering of exiles, and this fact only serves to intensify our question: why did the Sages consider this blessing a suitable substitution for the blessings over the Torah?

Love - Foundation for the Giving of the Torah
This problem can be solved by understanding that what underpins God's giving the Torah to Israel is the fact that God "lovingly chooses His nation Israel." God has chosen us, the nation of Israel, and He loves us. Even the opening of "Ahavat Olam" deals with God's love for Israel - "Ahavat Olam Ahavtanu," means "You love us with an eternal love."

Love implies a bond. God's choosing us is the bond by which He ties us to Him - via the Torah. The Torah and its study serve to create a bond between Israel and God. The bond between God and Israel is reciprocal in nature. On the one hand, God chooses us lovingly; on the other hand, our own love for God is also given expression - "As in water face answers face" (Proverbs 27:19).

The Torah - The Inward Name of God
The Talmud teaches (Avot 3:6): "R. Halafta from Kefar Hananiah said: [When there are] ten sitting together and occupying themselves with Torah, the Divine Presence abides among them, as it says: 'God stands in the congregation of God.' And whence [do we infer that the same applies] even [when there are] five? [From] that which is says: 'And He hath founded his band upon the earth,' and whence [do we infer that the same applies ] even [when there are three?] [from] that which is said: 'In the midst of the judges He judgeth.' And whence [do we infer that the same applies ] even [where there are] two? [From] that which is said: 'Then they that feared the Lord spoke one with another, and the Lord hearkened, and heard etc.' And whence [do we infer that the same applies] even [when there is] one? [From] that which is said: 'In every place where I cause my name to be mentioned I will come unto thee and bless thee.'

"In every place where I cause my name to be mentioned, I will come unto thee and bless thee." God's name is the Torah. Thus, in the continuation of the blessing, it says, "Bring us close, our King, to Your great name, truly and lovingly..." and here, too, the Torah is intended, as Ramban writes in the introduction to his own commentary to the Torah. There he explains that the entire Torah is made up of names of God, and that even as a whole, the Torah constitutes one great name of God.

What is a name? A name is an unveiling of inner content, and it constitutes a way of revealing ones identity to others. The Torah is the name of God, as explained in the Talmud (Shabbat 105a): "R. Yochanan, on his own authority, said, 'The word Anokhi [in the verse "I (Anokhi) am the Lord thy God..."] is the acronym of I (Ana) Myself (Nafshi) have written the Script (Kethibah Yehabith)."

God reveals Himself in the world in a number of different ways - through reality, encountering creation, in every plant and every animal, in each and every person. This is the way which Abraham the Patriarch began to recognize God - He sought the "builder of the city," for he understood that "the city" was not built on its own. However, there is an even loftier revelation of God which causes us to look not only at "the bottle," the external aspect, but even at the contents and essence. The Almighty wrote out His soul, as it were, His will and desire, in the Torah.

"And You Drew Us Near"
The Almighty gives us the opportunity to approach Him via the Torah. Every Jew must be very happy about the fact that we, of all people, were given the capacity to approach the Almighty, to approach the inner essence.

Our ability, as Jews, to study Torah does not stem from us; it is not the result of our drawing ourselves near to the Torah. Rather, it is because the Almighty has brought the Torah near to us. A non-Jew, looking at things from the outside, might well understand that there is a Divine matter here, but he will not merit the special closeness that Israel merits. He will not merit becoming acquainted with the inner content and the Divine will.

And "as in water face answers face" (Proverbs 27:19). When a Jew succeeds in becoming acquainted and recognizing God's relation to us, when a Jew understands just how fortunate we are to be so close to God by our very nature, he must thank God profusely for having so lovingly chosen Israel.

Such an understanding of the giving of the Torah sheds light upon the well-known story of the convert who requested of Hillel the Sage to teach him the entire Torah on one foot. Hillel responded, "That which you dislike, do not to others," or, in its positive version, "Love your fellow as yourself." Behave toward your fellow as you would like him to behave toward you. Why is love between man and his fellow man seen as "the entire Torah"?

The bond between Israel and God is also the foundation of the bond between Israel and itself. It is the bond of creation: "Your fellow and the fellow of your father, do not abandon," "Love your fellow as yourself" - with both of them, with God and with fellow Jew, there exists a bond. The foundation of the Torah is love, a bond, and through Torah study a bond is created with God. There is no truer bond, no more permanent a bond than this, "truly and lovingly."

Because this love bond is so significant, the Talmud's severe attitude to one who abandons the Torah is understandable (Sanhedrin 99b): "Whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding" (Proverbs 6:32) Resh Lakish said: This alludes to one who studies the Torah at [irregular] intervals, as it is written, "For it is a pleasant thing if thou keep them within thee; they shall withal be fitted in thy lips" (ibid. 22:18).

One who studies Torah irregularly lacks understanding, even if there appears to be justification for such irregularity, for he "committeth adultery with a woman." The Torah is a woman, "A woman of valor who can find?" (Ibid. 5:19). There is a woman who is bound to you, "the woman of your covenant," and there are others, like adulteresses. Such a person lacks understanding, such an attachment is no bond. Torah study, as noted, constitutes a bond, and if instead of being continuous it is fragmented, regardless of the reasons, it is "without understanding," and without attachment, and it is almost possible to say that this is not Torah at all, for Torah's essential concern, as noted, is creating a bond between us and the Almighty.

The Positive Bond - "Be you ravished always with her love"
With regard to the love of God it is written, "Be you ravished always with her love" (Proverbs 5:19). When a person loves, all of his thoughts are focused on the object of his love. Rambam explains that the spiritual level of the forefathers was unique because even when they busied themselves with worldly matters, business, property, livestock, and honor, they would carry out these things with their bodies alone, while not deviating in thought or love from God for even a minute. They were a "chariot for the Divine Presence and they fulfilled the verse, "Be you ravished always with her love." "As in water face answers face." The Almighty has chosen His nation, Israel, and He draws us near to the Torah. This is the essential meaning of the chosenness of Israel, the closeness to the Torah. And we, for our part, express mutual feelings.

Regarding the bond uniting us to the Torah and the Almighty, the Midrash says (Shemot Rabba, Teruma 33:1): "But can you conceive of a transaction in which the seller is sold with his goods! God, however, said to Israel: 'I have sold you My Torah, but with it, as it were, I also have been sold,' as it says, 'That they take me for an offering.' It can be compared to the only daughter of a king whom another king married. When he wished to return to his country and take his wife with him, he [the father] said to him: 'My daughter, whose hand I have given thee, is my only child. I cannot part with her, neither can I say to thee: "Do not take her," for she is now thy wife. This favor, however, I would request of thee; wherever thou goest to live, have a chamber ready for me that I may dwell with you, for I cannot leave my daughter.' Thus God said to Israel: 'I have given you a Torah from which I cannot part, and I also cannot tell you not to take it; but this I would request: wherever you go, make for Me a house wherein I may sojourn,' as it says, 'And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them' (ibid. 25: 8)."

The Almighty says to Israel that He cannot detach Himself from the Torah. He and the Torah are one. The Torah possesses a special, unique quality. It has the power to bond, and this is its purpose, to create a bond between the student and God - Torah is the "glue." On the verse, "Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mixed" (Proverbs 9:5) the Sages teach that the Torah is called bread (Heb. "lechem") as a kind of reference to bonding, or "welding" (Heb. "halchama," which hints at the same Hebrew root as "lechem").

Hardship As an Expression of Love
One Talmudic text dealing with the importance of repetition of Torah study teaches that Rabbi Akiva would say "Chant it every day, chant it every day." R. Isaac ben Abudimi said: What verse [supports this]? — "He that laboureth, laboureth for himself, for his mouth craveth it of him": he toils in one place, the Torah toils for him in another (Sanhedrin 99b).

Rashi explains that the reference to chanting comes to tell us that just as one who occupies himself with songs and melodies on a regular basis gradually gains a talent in this area, so one who uses his time in order to review his Torah study becomes versed in Torah.

We do not review our Torah study in order to gain a better understanding or to remember our studies better. The primary purpose of our review is to give expression to our love for God, "Be you ravished always with her love." A man never becomes sick of his wife. There is never any situation wherein the marital bond does not bring him satisfaction. The more one repeats, the more one discovers, the more one becomes aware of the Almighty's will. This is the bond. This is "knowing God."

Knowing the Torah is itself tantamount to knowing God, and it calls for hard work, review, and repetition. Not for naught do the Sages teach that one must drink the words of Torah thirstily: "Drink their words thirstily" (Avot 1:4). One commentary to the Mishnah explains that even if a person has already heard certain words of Torah before, he must nonetheless hear them again eagerly. This, as we have said, is the purpose of Torah, becoming acquainted with the will of the Almighty, and this is itself the expression of our love.

On the words, "If you follow My laws" (Leviticus 26:3), the Midrash comments, "This teaches us that God wants Israel to labor in Torah." According to the Midrash, the word "If" is to be understood in the sense of "Would that." God longs for us to follow His laws. Once again, the Sages reveal the essential foundation of the bond of Torah - "Who lovingly chooses His nation Israel." However, this bond can only be achieved through, "If you follow my laws," - laboring in Torah.

From an understanding of the proper attitude to Torah study, an opposite attitude also presents itself: "A perverse man sows quarrels" (Proverbs 16:28). Hatred and petulance, heaven forbid, are the opposite of love. Rabbenu Yonah, in his classic work, "Shaarei Teshuvah," explains that a person who is angry and full of passions can even cause somebody who loves him to leave him: "The words of the petulant are like delicacies, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body" (ibid. 18:8). Even a small amount of Hatred causes separation. Love bonds, and severance is its the opposite.

From here we learn the great importance of that foundation, love, God's love of Israel, and the love between Jews. "He who lovingly chooses His nation Israel" is not merely a foundation to the Torah, it is a base for accepting the Yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, which is also founded upon love. Immediately after the "Ahavat Olam" blessing we recite "Love the Lord your God" in acceptance of the Yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Love for God finds expression in our attachment to Him, and, as the Midrash explains, the essence of the commandment to "love the Lord your God," finds expression in the study of the Oral Tradition, which calls for exertion, labor, and toil. Love is recognizable in self-sacrifice for Torah. There are two aspects here: love and self-sacrifice. "Love the Lord your God," in such a manner that "you be ravished always with her love." Severance is not thinkable, for without the heart, everything will be external.

Where Do We Find the Answers?
"Wisdom is before him who has understanding; but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth" (ibid. 17:24). According to the commentators, a fool searches for answers in far away places, "in the ends of the earth." A wise person understands that the solution is to be found right here. There is no reason to search for angels; the answer can be found right here in the Yeshiva study hall, on the bookshelf. All of this, however, depends on self-sacrifice, laboring in Torah. And this is the purpose of Torah: love, bonding, attachment to God's great name, i.e., the Torah, by delving into and shedding light upon the Torah's fine details. Through all of these things we create an ever stronger bond with the Almighty.

Most translated sources in the above article are taken from or based upon the Soncino Classics Library, CD-Rom edition. Some liturgical sources were taken from or based upon the Artscroll Siddur.

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