Pirkei Avot Chapter 6 Mishnah 1: Loving God, Uniting with God

Rabbi Meir would say: Whomever studies Torah for Torah’s sake alone, merits many things; not only that, but the [the creation of] the entire world is worthwhile for him alone. He is called a friend, beloved, a lover of G‑d, a lover of humanity, one who brings joy to God, [and] one who brings joy to people… (Avot 6:1)

Our Mishnah refers to an individual who loves God and that brings God joy. What is the difference between loving of God and bringing God joy?

A person who studies Torah for its own sake (and not for any reward) merits an intimate relationship of love with the Creator. Torah study is an expression of love: “And you shall love Havayah your God…and these things that I command you today shall be on your hearts and you shall repeat them to your children and you shall speak of them [the mitzvah of Torah learning].”[1] When we love someone, we wish to embrace and kiss the beloved. Every mitzvah that we perform is like, “embracing the King”[2] (because the 248 mitzvot are likened to the 248 organs of the King, as it were), and Torah study is even more. In addition to its being a mitzvah like all mitzvot, it is considered kissing, “May he kiss me with the kisses of his mouth”[3] (called the “coupling of kisses” in Kabbalah[4]).

But as lofty as love is, Chassidut explains[5] that it has a certain shortcoming in that ultimately, it contains a subtle element of self-service. Just as when two people are in love, “it takes two to tango,” so when we love God, we feel that there are two – myself and God. This precludes complete service of God, as our own personal place is palpably present in the service.

Loftier than love of God is the service referred to as, “unifying God” – this is what brings God joy. During Torah learning, the unification of God is experienced as the essential feeling of embracing and kissing, with joy and pleasure in the soul. The relatively external embrace is the experience of joy, the joy accompanying the performance of every mitzvah. The kissing, which is unique to Torah study, is the cleaving, internal pleasure. A similar explanation is given regarding the difference between the mitzvah of joy on the holidays as opposed to the pleasure (ענג) of Shabbat.

When learning Torah, a person senses how all of reality, including his own self, unites and becomes one with God, as per the idiom, “There is nothing other than Him.”[6] In this feeling of unity of God, we serve Him with the acceptance of His yoke. We serve God even at the price of forgoing our feeling of personal relationship with God, as it were, in order to fulfill the ultimate purpose of God in creating the world: elevating physical reality to its Divine source by fulfilling the mitzvot and studying Torah.

This service of God also has its shortcoming. God created the world for “He desired to dwell in the separate reality of this world”[7] and by doing so, to create a personal connection with His creations. This is the advantage that love of God adds to unification of God – to love God specifically from within the gap and difference between us

[1]. Deuteronomy 6:5-7.

[2]. Tanya chapter 4.

[3]. Song of Songs 1:2.

[4]. Tanya chapter 45.

[5]. Tanya chapter 10.

[6]. Deuteronomy 4:35.

[7]. Tanchuma Neso 16: “When the Almighty created the world, He desired for himself a dwelling place in the lower realms.”

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