On today’s daf the Gemara discusses the blessing that introduces recitation of the Shema: Does one recite ahavah rabah “an abounding love” or ahavat olam “an eternal love”?
We have inherited two kinds of love from our fathers, and both kinds can be considered a natural part of us in the sense that everyone can experience them with appropriate incentive and guidance. The first of these loves is abounding love, which is indeed vast and superior in every way. It is totally superior and, in contrast to earthly love, is not dependent on any external factor. It can only be achieved through an act of meditation and introspection. Love that sublime opens one up to a growing degree of awareness, of inner identity with divinity. It is a wholly internal experience, deeper, broader, and more sublime than any other.
On the one hand, one may justifiably wonder whether this sublime love is essential for one’s immediate well-being. What is wrong with simply and naturally loving God with the second type of love, eternal love, like a son loves his father? Why can one not simply confess the soul’s dependence on and yearning for God and leave the intellectual quest to fathom His greatness to those better qualified? After all, simple, natural love is within the capacity of all men, whereas the intellectual inquiry and meditative comprehension of the divine requires an elevated level of connection, attained by only a few. On the other hand, if a son becomes conscious of his father’s greatness and learns to appreciate his virtues and capabilities, that will enrich his love and provide it with breadth and vitality that may otherwise be lacking. The simple love then transcends its irrational, natural, and personal confines and becomes something that greatly enhances one’s capacity to live in the world of God, Father to us all. It is as though one were to say: Even if God were not my own King and Father, I could not help loving Him in every way. Thus, the relationship gains an added dimension.