Today R’ Bamberger discussed the importance of having love for G-d. In the secular world, the term “friendship” is defined as mutual exploitation. In other words, you love a person only because of what that person gives you. In the Torah, on the other hand, the word for “love” (ahavah) is derived from the root “hav” (to give). Thus, you love a person only to the extent that you give to that person. True love isn’t a selfish pursuit to fulfill one’s base desires.
Love must be reciprocated between both parties in a relationship. Clearly, if one party to a relationship doesn’t reciprocate the affections of the other party, no relationship exists. The love between G-d and the Jewish people is one that is reciprocated. In our daily morning prayers, we declare that a person is obligated to love G-d with all one’s heart and soul only after we bless G-d for choosing us as His chosen people out of His love for us. We also demonstrated our love for G-d by following Him into the barren wilderness after G-d smote Egypt with the ten plagues out of His love for us.
The holiday celebrating the Exodus from Egypt has two names: Chag HaPesach and Chag HaMatzos. The name Chag HaPesach celebrates the fact that G-d passed over the homes of the Jewish people when He smote the firstborn sons of the Egyptians. The name Chag HaMatzos celebrates the self-sacrifice of the Jewish people who traveled into a barren wilderness with nothing but matzos on their backs. The Vilna Gaon explains that we refer to this holiday as Chag HaPesach in order to sing G-d’s praises. Conversely, the Torah refers to this holiday as Chag HaMatzos to sing the praises of the Jewish people.
The megillah of Shir HaShirim is a story of love between G-d and the Jewish people. The Rambam explains that Shir HaShirim employs the symbolism of a man’s love for a woman in order to indicate how much we are supposed to love G-d. Our attitude in life should be that we can’t do enough to express our love for G-d.
The Ramban homiletically interprets a pasuk in Tanach to mean that if you have an inspiration to express your love for G-d, you should make it tangible. Indeed, our fulfillment of the mitzvos to eat matzoh and marror and to drink four cups of wine on the seder night are tangible ways for us to express our love for G-d.
Rabbi Akivah was one of the few people in the world who experienced complete selfless love in his marriage. R’ Akivah’s wife Rachel was the daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the world, Ben Kalba Savua. Since R’ Akivah was an ignoramous at the time that he married Rachel, Ben Kalba Savua disowned his daughter and forced her to live a life of extreme poverty. The Gemara tells us that R’ Akivah and his wife were so poor that they had to sleep on bales of hay. In the morning, R’ Akivah would pull pieces of straw out of Rachel’s hair and tell her that one day he would buy her a golden tiara to wear as a crown.
Shortly after he married Rachel, R’ Akivah went away to a yeshivah to learn, where he stayed for 24 years without ever seeing his wife. After the end of the 24 years, he returned to his wife with 24,000 students behind him. Rachel came out to greet him in her tattered garments and ran to embrace her husband. At the time, some of R’ Akivah’s students tried to push her away due to her unkempt appearance. However, R’ Akivah restrained them with the following moving words: “The [Torah] that is mine and the [Torah] that is yours is to her credit.” Thus did R’ Akivah reciprocate his wife’s selfless love for him.