Three Loves

"And you shall love G‑d your lord with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might." (Deuteronomy 6:5). These words are not just poetic repetitions of love but precise instructions that define the parameters of the love that G‑d desires.

According to our sages, the words with all your heart teach us that our primary desire must be to G‑d and that all other desires must be subordinate to this one. The words with all your soul instruct us to love G‑d more than we love life itself. We must love him with every fiber of our being, irrespective of any sacrifice this love may entail. In short, we must stand prepared to die for G‑d.

The words with all your might instruct us to love G‑d with all our resources. Every possession must be devoted to his service. We must be prepared to devote our last penny to his cause. An alternate interpretation of the last clause is to love G‑d in all circumstances that providence has assigned to us. We must love him in bliss and in distress, in joy and in misfortune. In short, we must live for G‑d.1

Living and Dying

The sequence of the first two clauses is clearly structured in order of ascent. It is easier to desire G‑d with our hearts than it is to love him with our lives. The placement of the third clause, however, seems curious. Having been instructed to die for G‑d, is it necessary that we be instructed to live for him?2

Dying for G‑d is heroic. It is the ultimate sacrifice and the pinnacle of devotion, but it is not a constant sacrifice. It lasts for but a moment. Living one's life in accordance with G‑d's wishes, even when such devotion engenders great and constant sacrifice, is a lasting indication of enduring love.

Further analysis of the three clauses will yield a better understanding of the three loves and why living for G‑d requires a deeper measure of love than dying for G‑d.

Husband and Wife

The love between a Jew and G‑d is often compared to the love between husband and wife. Considering the experience of marital love might help us distinguish between the three standards of love: heartfelt, dying for love and living for love.

Consider a couple after several months of marriage, who readily admit their heartfelt love for each other. Their primary desire is for each other and all other desires are subordinate to this one. They truly love each other at this time, but does this mean that they are prepared to die for each other? Not necessarily.

Jumping in front of a train to save a loved one requires a higher level of devotion than heartfelt love. Heartfelt love means that we enjoy living with our loved one. Dying for the one we love means that life without our loved one is not worth living. "I love you," does not imply such devotion. It only implies that I love living with you, but if I tragically lost you, I would sadly learn to live without you.

A husband and wife who stand prepared die for each other have reached a deeper level of connection, but not yet the deepest. They are prepared to die for each other, but are they prepared to live for each other? Consider a husband who discovers after marriage that his wife has been diagnosed with a severe disease. She has become bedridden and will require constant care.

Their hopes and dreams are shattered. They will never have children. They will never travel together. They will never experience the life they envisioned. He must now alter his life completely and become a permanent caregiver. A husband who stands by his wife at this critical juncture has reached the deepest level of love.

Living with this daily and hourly sacrifice for years or even decades is far more difficult than making the ultimate sacrifice in a split second decision. The latter is the ultimate sacrifice. The former is the more enduring sacrifice.3

On a Deeper Level

Living for a loved one is purely selfless, but dying for a loved one is not. A husband dies for his wife because he cannot conceive of living without her. It is true that his primary concern is for her safety, but he is also subtly influenced by the desperate thought that life without her is not worth living.

Living for a loved one is purely selfless. The husband would gain much if he selfishly abandoned his wife in her time of need and pursued his own life unencumbered. The only reason he stands by her is because he loves her. His devotion is purely selfless. It serves only the one he loves.

Tactile and Easy

We now return to our love for G‑d. The three levels of love enumerated by the Torah are indeed in order of ascent. First we must learn to love G‑d with all our heart, ensuring that our primary desire is for G‑d. We then gradually evolve to loving G‑d with our soul, standing prepared, if necessary, to die for G‑d. The third and deepest love is the one that impels us to live for G‑d.

Living for G‑d may be the greatest love, but its expression is tactile and within easy reach. Every time we sacrifice a moment of our time to perform a Mitzvah, every time we subordinate our possessions to G‑d's service, every time we forgo worldly pleasure for an hour of Torah study, we demonstrate absolute devotion that flows from the greatest love known to man.

The love is natural to the soul, but it is by nature concealed. We need not wait until we reveal it before we actually articulate it through the performance of mitzvot. On the contrary, the performance of mitzvot can help to trigger this innate connection and raise our hidden love to the surface.