V'ahavta et Adonai Elohecha - You shall love the Eternal your God...
Can it really be a commandment to love God? Would such commanded love be real? Love is not an emotion that appears upon request. We cannot command love even within ourselves. We may like a person a tremendous amount, but that liking may never transform into love. Love stems from a sense of intimate connection, not from shared experience or even love felt for us. How then can we understand and find love for God, love for parents, or perhaps even more difficultly, love for our neighbors or the world?
The Shema and its blessings can help us to understand this process. Each day, morning and evening we meditate on two prayers, which precede the Shema. With the first of these, we express our amazement and awe that God creates with words, bringing materiality from nothingness. Creation leads to Awe, but not yet love.
The second prayer is likewise a prayer of thanks, but this time on a much more personal level. The great miracles of creation demonstrate God's power, but here seemingly smaller miracles teach us of God's love. Gifts of the Torah and the mitzvot are revelations of love. Indeed they are gifts, which allow us to actualize the best of ourselves to create a world of Tikkun Olam. Yet, we may find ourselves with a sense of appreciation and thankfulness, but not yet love.
Traditionally we refrain from answering "amen" at the end of Ahava Rabba, but instead immediately recite the Shema. These prayers are connected together, because they can teach us the reciprocal connection, which can and must transform our feelings of appreciation and thankfulness to love. We love God (and God loves us) because we have an intimate and essential connection with the Divine. God is absolute unity, and we are part of that unity. Our souls, our essential being, are sparks of the Divine that create that unbreakable connection. Thus the love between God and humanity, as all true love must be, is reciprocal.
We connect with God through our souls, so too are we connected with each human being and indeed the entirety of creation. Indeed, everything that exists contains and is vivified by the Divine. Therefore our love must finally express itself as Ahavat Olam, love for all aspects and expressions of God's creative power. Now as Elul ends and we look to Tishre and beyond, may we find love everywhere we look: love for humanity, God and all the world.
--Rabbi David Kunin
(All of Rabbi Kunin’s meditations for the month of Elul—one for each letter of the Hebrew aleph-bet—are available on his website: http://tokyorabbi.blogspot.com.au.)