Unconditional Love

Abram provides us with a model for loving God and people for their own sake and not for any manifestation of that love.

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What I like about the Ohr HaChaim's commentary is that it suggests that Abram's spiritual greatness was not that he merited a Divine Covenant, but that he was able to love God for God's own sake, not just to get something out of it. This kind of relationship with God is just like a profound relationship with a human being- one can love simply because one's beloved is simply present, not because of any specific manifestation of that love.

For example, if my best friend gives me a birthday cake, I might embrace him in gratitude, but it's not really gratitude for the cake, per se. Hopefully, I would be emotionally mature enough to experience the gratitude as a response to my friend's caring, to the fact that my friend remembered me, that he or she was simply there, fully present in my life. The cake is just an outward manifestation of that caring, fully present relationship.

Perhaps one insight underlying the Ohr HaChaim's midrash is the idea that a love dependent on outward manifestations can become fickle or unstable, whereas a love which emerges from within, which depends only on the presence of the beloved, can better survive the ups and downs of any relationship. If we "bless God only for the good," we risk becoming spiritually alienated when life gets hard; if we can find an inner connection to the Source of all Being, we can stay spiritually centered through all our journeys. The Ohr HaChaim seems to be suggesting that Abram would have been just as happy if God appeared to him and promised him nothing at all; this is a spiritual love which can endure, just as Abram's faith seems to have endured throughout all his tests and travels.

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Rabbi Neal J. Loevinger

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger is currently the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, NY. A former student at Kolel, he served as Kolel's Director of Outreach from late 1999-2001. He was ordained in the first graduating class of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism, and holds a Master's of Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto.