What is Love in the Hebraic Mindset?
What is the definition of the Hebraic “love”? In the western gentile mind, “love” is an abstract concept with no clear and concrete definition. If a gentile is asked what love is, what would be the answer but another abstract idea of warm feelings and positive emotions towards someone.
“Love” from Hebraic perspectives is something much deeper than just a feeling.
Due 6:5 gives the command to love YHVH, but in the most common translation it is unclear what is to love Him will all our heart, soul, and especially with all might.
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deu 6:5)
In the modern western culture, people love someone because of cultural, emotional, and moral bonds, or simply because others love them. If someone is nice to them, they love him; if not — they do not. It all about feelings.
And this is exactly what is behind the Greek word for love agapo, to love in a social or moral sense, according to Strong Dictionary. This Greco-Roman understanding of love has impacted the gentile mind and culture to such a point that everything is seen through the prism of “love”.
Another Greek word for “love” is phileo, and means to be a friend to an individual or an object, that is, to have affection for denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling; specifically to kiss as a mark of tenderness.
Agapo is being chiefly of the heart and phileo of the head, according to Strong Dictionary. Or, we can see that Greco-Roman love is an abstract word. And an abstract thing cannot be seen, heard, touched, or smelled; it is all about emotions and “emotion” is another abstract word.
However, YHVH commands us in Deu 6:5 to love; to love Him and to love our fellowman.
This leads us to the question, “How can we be commanded to love, to feel a feeling?” unless there is something much more in the Hebraic meaning of love.
Because, if one does not love, no command in the world will make him or her love, and if one loves, he or she needs no command to love. And yet, we are commanded to love.
Yeshua the Messiah also teaches us to love by giving us a deeper meaning of love: connecting love with guarding His Father’s commands:
If you love Me, you shall guard My commands. (Joh 14:15)
If you guard My commands, you shall stay in My love, even as I have guarded My Father’s commands and stay in His love. (Joh 15:10)
Since the Hebrew Messiah spoke Hebrew to the Hebrews, we need to study the Hebrew text of Deu 6:5 from Hebraic perspectives in order to correctly understand the command to love YHVH and our neighbor.
The meaning of love in the Hebraic culture goes much deeper than what is known as love in the western gentile mindset.
So, what is “love” from Hebraic perspectives?
The first Hebrew word in Deu 6:5, which we will study, is אָהַב ahav often translated as to love. The Hebrew noun אַהֲבָה ahavah, which means love, has at its root in the word הַב hav – to give. Therefore, from the Hebrew language we glean that love is something we give. And the more we give, the more we grow to love the recipient of our gift.
And we are told that we can know the Messiah, not only in an emotional sense, but in the sense of our actions as we give and provide and guard His commands.
And by this we know that we know Him, if we guard His commands. (1Jn 2:3)
My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. (1Jn 3:18)
Another word for “love” is חָשַׁק chashak with its literal meaning “to be attached to” as seen in Exo 38:17, but better seen in connection with ahav in Deu 10:15 where it is used in the sense of “affection”:
YHVH delighted (chashak) only to your fathers, to love (ahav) them.
Here חָשַׁק chashak is translated as delighted in a sense that YHVH delighted as He was attached emotionally to the fathers.
There is one more Hebrew word for love: דֹּד dod which can be spelled also this way דּוֹד. From this root comes the word יְדִיד yedid, “beloved”, with the meaning to love in sense of passion including sexual as seen in Eze 23:17.
Related word is דּוּדַי duday, mandrake or love-apple: a plant of rivalry between Ya’akov’s wives Leah and Rachel in Gen 30:14. It comes from the same root דּוֹד and what is interesting is that it couples with word שַׁד shad meaning breast, nipple, as seen in Son 1:13.
However, ahav, is to love in sense of responsibility and compassion. When we provide for our family and love ones and give charity to someone whom we do not even know, we show the true love in us.
The second Hebrew word in Deu 6:5 is לֵבָב levav, also a form of לֵב translated as heart and commonly understood to be the organ that pumps up blood. לֵב also means an inner part of something, midst, an inner man.
This word comes from the verb לָבַב lavav. The pictograph of lehav is of the pictographs of the letter lamed: is a picture of the shepherd staff representing authority, and the letter beit: a picture of a tent representing the comfortability and coziness in the family.
The consciousness of man is seen as coming from deep inside the chest or where the heart is. This organ is also seen in Hebraic culture (unlike in the western culture where the heart is seen as a seat of emotions) as the seat of thought and the mind as the verb לָבַב lavav means also to become intelligent, to get a mind.
The literal meaning of lehav, chest or breasts, can be seen in Nah_2:7
And it is established: she shall be exiled, she shall be led away. And her female servants are moaning as with the voice of doves, beating on their breasts (lehav).
Or, we may conclude that lehav is the mind, will, heart, and consciousness: the inner man.
The third word is נֶפֶשׁ nephesh often translated as “soul” but it means the whole of a person consisting of the body, breath, life, mind, or we may say: the whole human being. It comes from naphash which means to take breath and to refresh oneself as a soul is refreshed by taking a breath. It also means appetite.
The fourth Hebrew word that is translated as “might” in Deu 6:5 is the word מְאֹד me’od. But what does it mean “to love God with a might”?
Should one love YHVH flexing muscles and roaring like a lion to show how much he loves Him? No! מְאֹד me’od means an abundance of things, but literally: “above and beyond” as we can see its literal meaning in Gen 7:19, when the waters of the flood went above and beyond the high mountains. Or, we may translate me’od as “something exceeding”.
In conclusion, we can say that depending only on the common translations such as, “…love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might” we may think that all we need is to carry warm thoughts about God in emotions trying really hard to love Him with all our “might” and “strength”.
But, let us read literally the same command to love the Creator, this time from Hebraic perspectives, the way He wants to be loved:
וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ and you will give and provide אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ your Elohim Yehovah
בְּכָל with all your לְבָבְךָ֥ inner being
וּבְכָל and with all נַפְשְׁךָ֖ your being
וּבְכָל and with all your מְאֹדֶֽךָ ׃everything
The Sages teach us,
Perform His commandments out of love. The one who acts out of love cannot be compared to the one who acts out of fear. If one serves his master out of fear, when the master sets a great burden upon him, this servant will leave him and go away [whereas if out of love he will serve him even under great burden] (Sifrei 6:5).
But for the love of YHVH to be of the right kind, His commandments must be laid to heart, and be the constant subject of thought and most importantly subject of good deeds. This is best seen in the verses that follow Deu 6:5,
And these Words which I am commanding you today shall be in your heart, (Deu 6:6)
“In your heart” i.e., the commandments of YHVH are to be a matter of the heart, and not merely words (see Deu 11:18).
They were to be taught to the children, talked of at home and by the way, in the evening on lying down and in the morning on rising up, i.e., everywhere and at all times; they are to be bound upon the hand for a sign, and worn as bands between the eyes (Due 6:7-9). This is what “everything exceeding” means.
Love is like a husband who thinks he shows love for his wife by fidelity and by building a house. This is what he is required to do. But by going above and beyond what is required, by giving her care and creating a family, a home, this is how he shows love.
The Hebraic love is not just about thoughts, feelings and sentiments that can all be expressed without something we need to give up. The Hebraic love is something more than this, something far and beyond us, something exceeding.
And how can we fulfill the greatest command of all to love Yehovah, if not through His Messiah’s words to do our Father’s commands:
You shall stay in My love, even as I have guarded My Father’s commands and stay in His love.
And how we do His Torah and stay in His love, but by giving and providing for the needy, the poor, the sick, the orphans and the old widows: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18)
The next article is “What is faith in the Hebraic mindset?“
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.