Yael Chaya Miriam Gray

Loving G-d: A personal journey

“You shall love the L-rd, Your G-d, with all of your heart, and all of your soul, and all of your might.”

~ Siddur, The Shema

I confess  do not remember a time in my life when  was not crazy-in-love with G-d.[1] So it’s difficult for me to relate to the question, “ow can G-d command us to have an emotion? Is this not involuntary?” For me, the question is more like, “ow can you NOT have this emotion? Emotions are sometimes involuntary, this much is true: Ordinarily, you can’t make someone love you. But the love of G-d is encoded in our spiritual DNA just like the color of our eyes and hair. (See, e.g., Yehudah HaLevi, The Kuzari)[2]. It is the dominant desire of the healthy human soul, if we were but to recognize it.[3]

So what does it mean to love G-d, “with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your might?”

I cannot say, for I have not reached that exalted level. Rivers of ink have been spilled answering this question by those who have, however, and all of the answers of our Sages are more luminous than anything could ever say on the matter. You’ll find these answers easily in a Sefaria search. But I nevertheless must say which answer I find to be the most compelling. So here goes:

“To know G-d is to love G-d.”[4] That’s the long and the short of it. For in Torah, the word YADA (“knew,” past tense of “know”) is frequently used as a euphemism for the ultimate expression of human love and knowledge: the act of marital intimacy.[5]

Our souls are a part of G-d above.[6] If we do not love G-d truly, madly, deeply, like a lover, we have divorced the part of ourselves that makes us human,[7] and Adam becomes nothing more than a Golem. For the breath of life that He blew into our nostrils is nothing less than the love of G-d,[8] the “kiss of life” which enlivens all of creation.


[1] Here is the story of my lifelong romance with Hashem. Hashem is, has been, and will always be the great love of my life. I have loved Him since I was three years old, since the first time my mother told me about her warped version of Him, which badly scared me, and which even then I rejected. Viscerally.

First, Mother told me that God loved me very much, and that that’s why He had created me. She also told me that God rewards the good and punishes the evil. I had no memorable reaction to either of these two statements.

I had seen the crucifix Mother had put on the wall over the head of my bed, however, and it terrified, repelled, and confused me. So, I asked “Mother, what did that man do to deserve to be nailed up like that? And would you please get rid of this scary thing?”

As a good Catholic, she was as appalled by my reaction to the crucifix as I was by the sight of the man nailed upon it. She gasped, drew back, and said to me, “But Cindy Lou! G-d loved us so very much that he sent his own little boy to be tortured and die on the cross because we were bad. Otherwise, we would have burned in hell forever.”

Well, with her every word, I grew more distressed. I cannot properly describe my horror. It’s the kind of horror of which only a three-year-old is capable. I vomited all over Mother. I couldn’t breathe, began hyperventilating, became dizzy and faint. I became utterly hysterical, and had to be sedated to stop screaming, “No! No! No! No! No!”

That the sedation brought me out of my hysterics was what my parents and my grandmother believed. But in reality, my 3- year-old mind simply did not, could not, believe that the God who loved me enough to create me would possibly do this to his own little boy, or that He would burn me in a lake of fire, all because I lied to my mom about feeding my dinner vegetables to the dog, under the table.

But the years passed and with them, my horror, possibly due to the sheer pervasiveness and familiarity of Chr*stianity in my home and school environments. My parents of course sent me to 12 years of Catholic school, where the nuns educated me so well that, eventually, I acquired the clarity of thought necessary to see through the warped Chr*stian perspective as clearly as I did when I was 3.

Thoroughly disenchanted with my birth religion, I began reading everything I could about other religions, trying to find a home. They were oh-so-interesting but, in my judgment, none of them had the ring of truth. This persisted all through college and law school, until I joined the Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Office of the District Attorney.

Now, it was office custom for the new attorneys to eat a brown-bag lunch in the law library every day. And it just so happens that, among these attorneys was a young Hasid named Stuart Shabbes, whom we called “Stuey.”

Stuey was well-liked and respected for his legal acumen. But he seldom joined in the perpetual lunchtime banter of his fellow new attorneys. All too often, these conversations centered around theological matters, discussing G-d, the universe, and everything, as young people are wont to do. I was not so shy as Stuey, however, and many a lunchtime found me holding forth to my fellow newbies about this or that conviction which my 22-year-old self then held regarding such matters, and which – in my ignorance and arrogance – I thought were utterly unique to me. He was a watcher and a listener, that Stuey. He didn’t miss a thing. And he must have heard my lunchtime expositions on life and G-d at least a few times.

I say this because, one day, upon returning to the law library after a very rare out-of-the-office luncheon with a friend, I found a slender book on my chair. The book was entitled, “What Jews Believe.” I knew Stuey had to have put it there because he was the only Jewish person I knew. And because I liked Stuey and I knew nothing at all about Judaism, I took the book home with me to read in my off time.

That night, I repaired to my room, Stuey’s book in hand, completely without expectations. I settled into my easy chair with a cup of herbal tea on the side table and began to read.

I was astounded. By page two, I was crying. By page 20, I was sobbing. Because, from this book, I discovered that I was not alone in my beliefs. (As it turns out, I had intuited or had worked out by logic around nine of Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of the Jewish Faith). I was jubilant! All these years, I thought I was alone! And here I find the root religion of them all, truth with a capital T. My soul fluttered in my chest! There was an entire community of like-minded people, and they are the children of Israel! Who knew???

The very next day, I began calling local rabbis, to inquire about conversion to Judaism. I called all of them multiple times, not being easily discouraged, and when they stopped answering the phone, I left many messages. The only rabbi who called me back was the rabbi of the local “Conservadox” synagogue. So, I met with that rabbi and, after a year’s study, in September of 1985, I went into the mikveh. Thereafter, for several years, I considered myself to be Jewish. I was confused and resentful when, a few years later, I discovered that my conversion was not recognized as valid.

It took over 30 years but, Baruch Hashem, on 18 Cheshvan 5780, I was brought under the wings of the Shekhinah by the Cleveland, Ohio, Beit Din. (Digression: Interestingly, Stuey Shabbes was best friends with my converting rabbi, Rabbi Ephraim Nisenbaum, when they were yeshiva bochurim at Telshe, back in the 1970s. Truly, there are no coincidences.)

[2] Part II, Section 24. Here is an excerpt from that section:

“And when you ponder on the love which the Creator has implanted in the hearts of His worshippers, you will find that it is implanted only in the hearts of the descendants of Abraham, who possess true knowledge, and are free from doubts, as shown by the unanimity of their opinions and the conformity of their aspirations. They have become conscious of this love by means of prophecies, visions, and miracles which they experienced in common.”

In this section, Rabbi Judah Halevi emphasizes that the love of God is specifically implanted in the hearts of the Jewish people, who possess true knowledge and have a shared spiritual experience through prophecies and miracles.

[3] a. In his book “Inner Space: Introduction to Kabbalah, Meditation, and Prophecy,” Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan discusses the longing of the soul to reunite with its divine source. He writes: “Deep within the soul, there is a yearning to unite with God, the source of all being. This desire to reconnect is the dominant desire of the soul.”

b. In “Meditation and Kabbalah,” Rabbi Kaplan explores the concept of devekut (cleaving to God) and the soul’s yearning for closeness with the Divine. He emphasizes that this longing is intrinsic to the soul’s nature.

c. In various works on Jewish meditation and spirituality, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan often alludes to the soul’s innate desire for unity with God. While specific passages may vary, the underlying theme is the recognition that the soul’s primary inclination is to seek closeness and oneness with its Creator.

[4] In “The Guide for the Perplexed” by Rabbi Moses Maimonides, there are several sections where he discusses the relationship between knowledge of God and love of God. Here are a few passages that highlight this connection:

a. Part I, Chapter 54: In this chapter, Maimonides discusses the intellectual knowledge of God and its connection to love. He states, “When a man understands these things according to their true nature, he will immediately love God, and his soul will long for His love.”

b. Part III, Chapter 51: Maimonides explains that the highest level of love for God is attained through knowledge of Him. He writes, “Love follows knowledge; the greater the knowledge, the greater the love.”

c. Part III, Chapter 52: Maimonides further elaborates on the link between knowledge and love of God, stating, “The highest degree of love of God is reached when man comprehends His great and infinite wisdom. For the more man understands the works of God and His creatures, the more he will love Him.”

[5] Here are several Tanakh verses that use a form of the word “yada”:

a. Genesis 4:1 – “Now Adam knew (yada) Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.'”

b. Genesis 4:17 – “Cain knew (yada) his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch.”

c. Genesis 4:25 – “And Adam knew (yada) his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.'”

d. Genesis 19:5 – “And they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know (yada) them.'”

e. Exodus 2:25 – “God saw the people of Israel – and God knew (yada) their condition.”

f. Deuteronomy 4:35 – “To you it was shown, that you might know (yada) that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him.”

g. Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew (yada) you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

[6] The Alter Rebbe’s TANYA; the Talmud.

[7] Zohar on “And Adam drove out et,” where et is a code word for the Shekhinah.

[8]a. Zohar, Parashat Vayikra (Leviticus): Within the Zohar’s commentary on the book of Leviticus, there are discussions about the love of God and the divine breath. It explores the idea that the breath of life is intimately connected to the love and devotion to God. Specific sections related to this topic may include portions of Parashat Vayikra, which focuses on the offerings and sacrifices.

b. Zohar, Parashat Naso (Numbers): Another section where the themes of love for God and the breath of life might be mentioned in close proximity is in the Zohar’s commentary on the portion of Naso in the book of Numbers. This section includes discussions on various spiritual and mystical concepts, including the connection between love, breath, and the divine.

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Jewish Mystic.
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