I was recently learning with a chavrusa about the mitzvah of Ahavas Hashem. We were trying to broaden our understanding of love and I pointed out that a given person probably loves their parents, their children, and their spouses. Now bring that person to Shul on Shabbos and ask him, “Who do you love in this room?”. He’ll look around and perhaps he’ll say “I think I can say that I love that guy. And maybe those two over there”. If you point out that there’s a mitzvah to love every Jew in the room, he’ll probably give you a shrug.
I’ve asked many friends and Rebbeim over the years about the mitzvah of Ahavas Hashem. One Rabbi told me that it’s for people on a higher level. I pointed out that we mention the obligation of Ahavas Hashem in Shema multiple times a day. To his credit, he went to his Roshei Yeshiva, who told him the Ahavas Hashem is in fact a mitzvah for everyone.
Another Rabbi said that he was not sure that Love of Hashem was even an emotion. I told him that was a big chiddush. Other Rebbeim have pointed out that our Avodah is intellectually centered, and we’re cautious about too much emotionalism. In fact, Rabbi Dessler praises the Chassidic custom to arouse emotions through external means, like the use of schnapps, but he also points out that emotionalism is not the same as internalizing love and connection to Hashem.
I recently gave a Dvar Torah at our Hashkama minyan and I said we needed a neo-Mussar to help develop our emotional connection to Hashem. My Rav got wind of the term and asked, “Why not real Mussar?”. I respectively replied that the word Mussar has negative connotations to many people, and even those who have a healthy Mussar diet, seem to have trouble getting to the emotional connection. I’m developing and experimenting with certain practices which I think will provide a path to intellectual driven emotions and connection to Hashem. I hope to share some of these ideas in the future.