Chaya Gutnick, Melbourne, Australia
MyLife Essay Contest 2018
Fundamentally, there is a problem in today’s society regarding its inability to commit. The ease with which possessions can be replaced has resulted in a mentality that little is of value. In turn, it has allowed for the same mindset to be applied to human relationships. Society seems to exist on the precept that it is easier to break a bond of love than repair it. The Tanya, authored by the Alter Rebbe, relays five levels of love for G-d that can be attained. These are; Ahava Raba (Great Love); Ahavat Olam (Transcendant love), Nafshi Iviticha (Desiring only G-d), and Love achieved by way of Rachamim (compassion). These levels of love are sourced in chapters 43,44 and 45 of Tanya. From these categories, one can derive knowledge on how to value another and therefore foster committed relationships.
Today, western society is consumed by a ‘disposable’ culture. Meaning, that due to mass production there is not much that is unique or valuable. Every-day essentials such as food, clothing and other materialistic possessions are mistakenly deemed to be something ‘we have’ rather than something ‘we need’. However in reality, they are basic necessities of life. In fact, a study from USDA’s Economic Research Service states that between 30-40 percent of the food supply in the United States is wasted. A society can only mindlessly reject such a fundamental component of its existence, if it is able to take essentials for granted due to their abundance. Ultimately, this has resulted in an unappreciative attitude toward possessions.
This mentality of undervaluing has thus filtered into the way people manage personal relationships. There can only be half-hearted commitment to something if a person is anticipating that it will eventually b noe replaced. A study by the University of Denver finds that a major reason for divorce at the individual level, is lack of commitment (75%). One must strive to recognise the value and importance of those in one’s life. This is especially so in the society of today which blindly rejects things, and worse people, at the slightest inconvenience.
How can a person learn to value? How can one rectify this detrimental mindset of waste that cause one to give up a relationship rather than work hard to maintain it?
THE FIVE LEVELS OF LOVE FOR G-D- A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM
In chapters 43, 44 and 45 of the Tanya, the five levels of love pertaining to G-d are explained. These categories are, as previously mentioned: Ahava Raba (Great Love); Ahavat Olam (Transcendant love), Nafshi Iviticha (Desiring only G-d), and Love achieved by way of Rachamim (compassion). By translating these levels of love for G-d that are discussed in Tanya to the way one should love another, it is possible to reinstill the trait of commitment into society. Thereby, allowing for wholesome, loyal connections amongst people.
AHAVAH RABBAH- GREAT LOVE
Ahava Rabbah (Great Love) is a pure and delightful love for G-d that is achieved through reaching a perfect level of fear, respect and awe (yirah) for Him. In previous chapters of the Tanya the Alter Rebbe explains that perfect fear is being totally nullified to G-d. It is the understanding that G-d is everything, and therefore nothing is independent from Him. Once this knowledge has been wholly internalised G-d bestows the person with the ability of the the Ahava Raba- a complete love. This love therefore, is a gift from G-d.
One can learn from the Ahava Rabbah that love is a precious gift and must be founded on respect. Respect for another means that one is completely aware of the value of the other. It is also the knowledge that one is nullified to the person, or people, whom he loves. In turn ,the person receiving the respect will reciprocate with feelings of love. Furthermore, recognising that love is a gift- something precious and indispensable- will allow one to want to maintain the love because it is something valuable.
Bottom line: Ahava Rabbah helps reintroduce value of others into society through respect and the understanding that the people one loves are irreplaceable.
AHAVAT OLAM- TRANSCENDANT LOVE
Ahavat Olam is when a person places G-d above the physical desires of the world. This love is borne out of a deep contemplation of G-d’s infinite and omnipresent nature. Mulling over the fact that He is the Creator and perpetual architect of the universe. Pondering that G-d is constantly orchestrating every aspect of one’s life (Hashgacha Pratit). Considering that G-d loves one personally with a deep and incomprehensible love. Understanding that the world does not exist without G-d.Through this, a person comes to realise that worldly pleasures and desires are incomparable to an infinite, omnipotent G-d. And thus, a person prioritises G-d above physicality.
In light of this, it can be understood how to generate long-lasting dedication towards loved ones. When a person realises that life would be drastically different without their loved ones in it, he will come to appreciate them. Furthermore, a person will not view his loved ones in the same way as he views material objects – replaceable. Rather those that are dear to a person, should be recognised as being indispensable, unlike mere possessions. In this way a person will not so easily give up or disregard a loved one in the same way one does with worldly possessions (especially in today’s society). Even more so, if a person loves another not only more than material objects, but in the face of worldly challenges, the connection will remain strong.
Bottom line: Through loving one above matters of the physical world a person can rid himself of the societal mentality that people, like objects, can be disposed of without regard.
NAFSHI IVITICHA- DESIRING ONLY G-D
This love of Nafshi Iviticha is the natural desire one has in his soul to be connected to G-d and the realisation that a person is literally a part of Him. The words Nafshi Iviticha stem from the quote “My soul [ie: G-d], I desire You” ( Yeshayahu 26:9). This means that a Jew has a natural love and desire for G-d, inherited from the patriarchs, because he has a part of G-d within. He longs for G-d, his lifesource- his soul. Ultimately this longing reveals that love for oneself is really love for G-d due to the fact one is a part of Him.
A person should feel that he is like one with those he loves. This is true in the fact that each Jew is essentially one and the same due to the G-dly soul that each Jew posesses (As discussed in the Chassidic discourse of Haychaltzu relayed by the Rebbe Rashab) . Then, any love that a person naturally feels for oneself, will be automatically transferred to love for another. A person will not willingly remove a limb from his body. It is an integral piece of him. If he realises that the one he loves is a part if him, he will not want to dispose of him or her. A paradigm example of this type of love is the words said by the scholar Rabbi Akiva to his wife Rachel: “what is mine is yours and what’s yours is mine”.
Bottom line: A person will not carelessly reject another, in the way society today influences him to do, if he considers himself to be one with the person.
AV AND BEN- LOVE OF A FATHER AND A SON
The level of Av and Ben is a love likened to that of a father and son. It is unconditional in nature and can be revealed through verbalising that G-d is one’s father and therefore one’s life source. The articulation of this love brings into consciousness a love that is so inherent it may not always be revealed on the surface. However, the Tanya relays the proverb “it is not beyond reach, nor is it far off, it is close to you in your mouth and heart”. This comes to teach that a person must constantly speak of his love for G-d even if he does so without feeling. For ultimately, a person has this love for G-d within and verbalising it allows it to surface. Once it surfaces it can then be translated into an active love for G-d (Mitzvot).
Sometimes, a person may begin to love another habitually and monotonously. The obvious emotions associated with love are no longer tangible. Yet one must realise that the emotions exist, they are only submerged in the repetitive routine that life subjects them to. It is therefore extremely important to constantly verbalise the love one has for another. Simply saying “I love you” on a regular basis to loved ones, especially family members whom ones love for has become habitual, will arouse the pre-existing love. Constantly reminding oneself of one’s love for others eliminates the possibility of taking them for granted as it is existing in a permanent state of consciousness.
Bottom line: With constant reminders of how much one loves those precious to him, one will be instilled with the sense of valuing loved ones- a quality that society lacks.
RACHAMIM- LOVE AS A RESULT OF COMPASSION
Compassion for the soul’s concealed from the light of G-d causes one to want to reconnect with Him. Empathy is, according to chassidus, an easily attainable emotion and thus an attainable way to connect to G-d. When one feels pity for his soul, that it is shrouded in materialism, he will want to help it by revealing it through doing G-dly acts (Mitzvot).
Compassion is a way in which a person can maintain love for another. Feeling empathy inspires actions of dedicatication and love. To feel the pain of a loved one is enough to cause one to be there in a time of need. Hence, to care about someone is enough to show that one values the other person.
Bottom line: Empathy can challenge boundaries of love constituted by society’s apathetic disregard for preciousness.
THE FINAL BOTTOM LINE
The five pathways to achieving love for G-d offer an insight into how one can come to value and be committed to people, in a society that does not hold ‘value’ in high esteem. Instead of upholding the mantra of “if you love someone, let them go”, attempt to hold on. Strive toward valuing others and committing to those one loves. Found love on respect, maintain that love is a gift. Place the people one loves before the things one loves. Realise the perfect unity of people who love each other. Constantly remind oneself of the deep love in order to actualise it. Show compassion and empathy. If a person can love G-d in these ways, he can surely do the same for his fellows. Don’t allow society to contradict the importance of loving and long-lasting relationships. Realise that to love is to commit. People are not replaceable objects. Don’t dispose of love without regard. Don’t let it go.
Bibliography: Miller, Chaim, The Practical Tanya, part one, the book for inbetweeners by Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Kol Menachem 2016.
Weinberg, Yosef, Lessons In tanya, volume two, The Tanya of R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Kehot Publication society, Israel 2001.
Alter Rebbe’s Tanya.