The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism as Exemplified in the Shema, the Most Important Passage in the Torah

By Norman Lamm | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 15
Does God Need Our Love?

N ow that we have concluded our discussion of the commandment, "You shall love the Lord your God," we turn to a question that often lurks in the darker recesses of our consciousness, too shy to expose itself to the glare of analysis. Yet if we are honest, we must address that question: if indeed God commands us to love Him, does that not in some way betray a need in Him to be loved? And does that not imply some lack, some vulnerability or imperfection, in God? And does that not, in turn, run counter to the teaching of the Jewish tradition that God is perfect, absolute, totally autonomous, and in need of nothing or no one?

To respond to this question we must first explore, however briefly, how the Jewish tradition treated the tendency of Scripture to refer to God in human terms.

From ancient days until well into the medieval period, many Jews tended to take the words of the Torah literally. This literalism or "fundamentalism" led many pious Jews to violate some of the most fundamental precepts and concepts in Judaism, such as the incorporeality of God. In the early tannaitic period, reacting against this widespread tendency, the great proselyte, Onkelos, in his classical translation of the Torah into Aramaic, eliminated each and every anthropomorphism and anthropopathism (attributing to God human form or human emotions) by reinterpreting them. In the medieval period, Maimonides fulminated against such base literalism and dedicated a good part of the first third of his immortal Guide for the Per -

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