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I once had a Hebrew professor state with absolute determination that "Ahavah" (the Hebrew word for "love") does not, in fact, mean love. His proof was twofold: 1. G-d could not have commanded us to "love" Him. Love is an emotion and cannot be controlled in that way. 2. A person can deeply love his or her spouse but be unfaithful.

He insisted, rather, that the word means faithfulness. When we are commanded "VeAhavta Eth HaShem Elokeicha", the commandment is not one of how we are obligated to feel, but one of how we are obligated to act - we are obligated to be faithful.

Is there any source for this idea? If so, why do we always translate "Ahavah" as "love"?

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Seems that "faithfulness" would be better represented by "ne'eman"? –  Eli Lansey Apr 25 '12 at 17:59
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AFAIR, Veahavta means to think hard about Hashem in such a way as to make one love him. For example, that he gives us life, he is the ultimate good, all the good that one has comes from him. –  Shmuel Brin Apr 25 '12 at 18:06
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רמב"ם הל' יסודי התורה פרק ב –  Hahu Gavra Apr 25 '12 at 18:13
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What about "And Jacob loved Rachel?" The professor apparently has a psycho-philosophical difficulty with the verse (and is not alone), but it doesn't strike me as being a compelling argument that the verb doesn't mean "love." –  yitznewton Apr 25 '12 at 18:46
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may I assume that his argument is about the biblical use of the word "ahava"? The word as it exists now in conversational Hebrew means "love" I believe. Additionally, the notion that we can "love" someone and be unfaithful may not be true -- it may simply be an error in how we use the word "love" to apply to a situation which is not clearly love, as true love would not "admit impediments." –  Danno Apr 25 '12 at 18:50
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4 Answers

in chabad chassidus the first question is a foundation and commonly brought up and answered all over the place there are hundreds of pages on it alone and in a nutshell heres the main point

the command is to try your best at loving hashem by thinking about certain things that will inspire love ( one of the most common is consider his greatness and the fact that nevertheless he helps you in your situations - again there are tens of contemplations and hundreds of pages) and it is says that g-d will help you along with this ("haboh letaher mesaiyin loi")

to the second question: the command to love doesnt have to mean to be faithful as the command to pray doesnt mean follow mitzvot etc. it has no bearing whatsoever on the meaning of "ahava"

and as toras emes stated if you look through shir hashirim its very in-your-face that ahava = love

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Reb Akiva Eiger says that since there is an Inyan form Mishle that love is a reflection, and since Hashem loves us, therefor we will love Him back.

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If it's automatic, why bother having it as a mitzvas asei? –  Hahu Gavra May 4 '12 at 22:19
    
@HahuGavra - kedoshim tihyu ki kadosh ani is no different. –  Adam Mosheh May 17 '12 at 22:34
    
@AdamMosheh its kedoshim tihiyu not kedoshim atem. tihiyu=you shall be=a commandment. Its very different. –  Hahu Gavra May 20 '12 at 20:57
    
@HahuGavra - I'm not so sure. –  Adam Mosheh May 20 '12 at 21:55
    
@AdamMosheh alright if you say so... I mean your refutation of my concrete argument was so solid I have no choice but to agree with you now. –  Hahu Gavra May 21 '12 at 3:33
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Love is an emotion and cannot be controlled in that way

Which is generally wrong according to R.Desler. At this site I found the citation from his book

הרב דסלר זצ"ל בספרו "מכתב מאליהו" (קונטרס החסד), ניסח כך נושא זה: "יותר ממה שהנתינה באה בעקבות האהבה, האהבה באה בעקבות הנתינה".

"Love is caused by Giving more than Love causes Giving"

So, if you give to somebody you starts to love him. I think this is a basic thing that each chatan is told before the wedding.

And according to

A person can deeply love his or her spouse but be unfaithful

From where did he took that?!?!? If he thinks this is true, then indeed his understanding about love is very mistaken.

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Thank you Menachem for the translation of R' Dessler. –  Adam Mosheh May 3 '12 at 18:20
    
The shoresh of the word Ahavah is hav which means to give loving only comes with giving . –  sam May 3 '12 at 18:29
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@sam, I thought "hav" is an Aramaic root. –  jake May 3 '12 at 18:31
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@jake: but the related word הבה is Hebrew, and Rashi (to Gen. 38:16) explains that its usual connotation, "prepare yourself," is close in meaning to "give." –  Alex May 4 '12 at 22:01
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@Alex, Perhaps. But even if הבה and אהב are related, there is no way to tell if that is because "loving only comes with giving", as sam put it, or if it is because loving causes someone to give - the other way around. –  jake May 4 '12 at 22:06
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The Torah commands us regarding emotions all the time, e.g.: "Don't bear a grudge", "don't hate your fellow in your heart", "don't harbor resentment when you give [charity] to him", "because you didn't serve Hashem your Lord with happiness and a glad heart", "don't despise the Edomite, for he is your brother; don't despise the Egyptian, for you were a sojourner in his land", etc., etc., etc.

Furthermore, "ahava" clearly means love all over the place, e.g. סַמְּכוּנִי בָּאֲשִׁישׁוֹת רַפְּדוּנִי בַּתַּפּוּחִים כִּי חוֹלַת אַהֲבָה אָנִי. "...for I am lovesick." (Shir HaShirim, 2:5) Skimming through Shir HaShirim yields many more examples.

In the comments above, @Hahu Gavra cited the Rambam in Hil. Yesodei HaTorah. Here is a quote from the Rambam elsewhere (Hil. Teshuva, 10:3):

וכיצד היא האהבה הראויה הוא שיאהב את ה' אהבה גדולה יתירה עזה מאוד עד שתהא נפשו קשורה באהבת ה' ונמצא שוגה בה תמיד כאלו חולה חולי האהבה שאין דעתו פנויה מאהבת אותה אשה והוא שוגה בה תמיד בין בשבתו בין בקומו בין בשעה שהוא אוכל ושותה, יתר מזה תהיה אהבת ה' בלב אוהביו שוגים בה תמיד כמו שצונו בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך, והוא ששלמה אמר דרך משל כי חולת אהבה אני, וכל שיר השירים משל הוא לענין זה.

"The appropriate love is to love Hashem with an exceptionally great and powerful love to the extent that one's soul is bound up with the love of Hashem so that he dwells on it constantly as if he is sick with lovesickness for that woman that he constantly thinks about whether he is sitting or standing or eating or drinking. Greater than this must be the love for Hashem..."

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