If indeed God commands us to love Him, does that not in some way betray a need in Him to be loved? And does that not imply some lack, some vulnerability or imperfection, in God? And does that not, in turn, run counter to the teaching of the Jewish tradition that God is perfect, absolute, totally autonomous, and in need of nothing or no one?… We acknowledge that from the point of view of ultimate reality–understood fully only by God and only asserted philosophically but never fully comprehended existentially by human beings–we can never attribute such imperfections as need, injury, vulnerability, and loneliness to God; God is beyon all emotion, including love. Nevertheless, in our daily lives as thinking, feeling, and active beings, we relate to God psychologically as a sentient, feeling, reacting Being.

Does God Need Our Love?

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R. Norman Lamm, The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism, pp. 113, 125:

[I]f indeed God commands us to love Him, does that not in some way betray a need in Him to be loved? And does that not imply some lack, some vulnerability or imperfection, in God? And does that not, in turn, run counter to the teaching of the Jewish tradition that God is perfect, absolute, totally autonomous, and in need of nothing or no one?…

[W]e acknowledge that from the point of view of ultimate reality–understood fully only by God and only asserted philosophically but never fully comprehended existentially by human beings–we can never attribute such imperfections as need, injury, vulnerability, and loneliness to God; God is beyon all emotion, including love. Nevertheless, in our daily lives as thinking, feeling, and active beings, we relate to God psychologically as a sentient, feeling, reacting Being.

Approaching God this way respects Onkelos’s and Maimonides’ strictures against anthropopathisms (and certainly anthropomorphisms), yet allows us to go beyond the realm of metaphor, to nurture our relationship to God in an existentially and psychologically more meaningful way than merely poetic or metaphoric analogy. The Cordoveran paradigm [distinguishing between divine and human perspectives] resolves the conflict between the philosophers and those ordinary religious folk (and some extraordinary ones as well!) for whom prayer is more than poetry, and love more than metaphor. It allows us to keep our hearts without losing our heads. And it tells us that, yes, God need our love as surely as we need His. If this understanding emerges as only “from our point of view,” so be it, for it is quite presumptuous–and impossible-to view anything “from God’s point of view.”

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

11 comments

  1. So “from our point of view” God is imperfect, lacking, and dependent?

  2. Sadly, according to the Rambam, this is kefirah.

  3. The philosophical criticisms of the position in this post are obvious. The traditional sources supporting the position, and more extreme forms of it, should also be obvious. For example, the piyut כהושעת אלים בלוד עמך which we say in hoshanot.

  4. RJM: I’m pretty sure it isn’t. The Rambam might disagree but I can’t see why he’d call it heresy. There is no denial of God’s complete perfection, just of man’s ability to relate to it.

  5. Commands and other Divine communications to us are for our own good.

  6. why must one assume that because G-d demands out love He therefore needs it, anymore than we would say He needs our performance of the mitzvos? Rather He demands our love for the same reason He demands he keep the Torah–its better for us.

  7. The Rambam’s philosophical understanding of what the Divine isn’t is hardly the last word on the matter. While it is certainly presumptuous for us to claim understanding of the entirely Other, we are, nonetheless, entitled to attempt a human understanding. Such a depiction and understanding is a prerequisite for a relationship. That striving for a relationship appears to be the basis for the command to attach onesself to and to love GOD. Normally, one can’t command an emotion. What can be ordered is to view and conduct oneself in such manner as to engender such a relationship. It is also a matter of reciprocity.

    The classical philosophic approach used by the Rambam postulates a completely self-sufficient deity. Anything less is considered imperfect. Why, then, was the universe brought into being? In human terms, there must have been a perceived “need” for the Other – somethings and someones to relate to. We, humans, understand and relate to that. What we can’t relate to is a Being who is remote and uninvolved. Nor is that the image of the Deity projected in the torah and prophets.

  8. It should be noted that “love” in Hebrew has several shades of meaning, which are not mutually exclusive, but not codependent, either. Concretely, love does not necessarily mean the emotional kinship two people feel for each other, but can also have a covenantal meaning, that is, “loyalty.” Take, for example, I Kings 5:15 כי אהב היה חירם לדוד–כל הימים, which does not at all suggest that they loved going fishing together, but rather, that they were steadfast allies.

    Likewise, while becoming more deeply emotionally invested in our bond to G”d is definitely an important religious value, at its core, this rather seems like a covenantal use of the verb אהב. Consider ואהבת את ה’ א־להיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך ובכל מאדך, which our Sages expound as בכל נפשך, אפילו נוטל את נפשך, בכל מאדך, בכל מדה ומדה שהוא מודד לך או בכל ממונך, which definitely evokes loyalty, rather than emotion. Thus, this explains how the need to love G”d does not evoke any shortcoming or need in Him, but is rather a reciprocal response, as G”d does חסד with us, i.e. is loyally committed to us. Instead of an imperfection, this commandment to love underlines His goodness to man.

    Consider also, BTW, that just like in the man-G”d relationship, both aspects of love play a role in marriage. Often, Western society emphasizes the emotional part while forgetting that marriage is a covenant, a formal agreement of mutual loyalty. Could enrich and occasionally save some relationships when we learn this in a timely fashion.

  9. Mark Smilowitz

    “Anyone who says that Judaism commands the individual to love God but does not promise him reciprocal love is a heretic. How unfortunate it is that many scholars pursued folly and suspected that Maimonides, Heaven forbid, agreed with the teaching of Aristotelian philosophy that the yearnings of the world for God are one-way, without any reciprocal yearnings” (R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik,”And From There You Shall Seek,” footnote 2.)

  10. Speaking of the Rambam, an issue prior to this is whether G-d is lovable. With the Rambam’s focus on negative theology — that all we can say about the Borei is what He isn’t (or how the consequences of His “Action” appears to us) — there isn’t anything lovable left. And so we find the Rambam (Yesodei haTorah 2:1) transvaluing the term “ahavah” so that it refer to something other than a naive understanding of the word “love”. According to him, ahavas Hashem is a thirst for knowing more about him.

    To quote: והיאך היא הדרך לאהבתו, ויראתו: בשעה שיתבונן האדם במעשיו וברואיו הנפלאים הגדולים, ויראה מהם חכמתו שאין לה ערך ולא קץ–מיד הוא אוהב ומשבח ומפאר ומתאווה תאווה גדולה לידע השם הגדול, כמו שאמר דויד “צמאה נפשי, לאלוהים–לאל חי”…

  11. I think that Micha’s post is correct, but IIRC, the Baalei Musar, especially REED, emphasize that Ahavah means to give. Perhaps, Ahavas HaShem does not mean that R”L, HaShem “needs” man’s “love”, whether emotional or otherwise, but rather a recognition that man must give to HaShem as part of recognizing that anything that man acquires or has in this world ultimately is of Divine Origin.

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