Rav Kook Torah

Beshalach: Two Levels of Love


When the Israelites saw that they had been rescued from Pharaoh’s army at the sea, they sang out with gratitude:

“זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ אֱלֹהֵי אָבִי וַאֲרֹמְמֶנְהוּ.”

“This is my God, and I will enshrine Him; My father’s God, I will exalt Him.” (Ex. 15:2)

Is the repetition in this line from Shirat Hayam (the “Song at the Sea”) merely poetic? Or is there a deeper significance to the two halves of the verse?

Although not apparent in translation, the verse uses two different names of God. The first half of the verse uses the name El, while the second half uses Elokim. What is the significance of each name? How do they specifically relate to the desire to “enshrine” and “exalt” God?

Innate and Contemplative Love

The song, Rav Kook explained, refers to two types of love for God. The first is an innate love and appreciation for God as our Creator and Provider. God, the Source of all life, sustains us every moment of our lives. All things are inherently drawn to their source, and this love for God comes naturally, like the innate feelings of love and respect for one’s parents.

This natural love of God corresponds to the Divine name El. The word El is in the singular, reflecting an appreciation for God as the only true power and the ultimate reality of the universe.

A second, higher form of love for God is acquired through reflecting on God’s rule of the universe. As we uncover God’s guiding hand in history, and recognize the underlying Divine providence in the world, we experience this higher, contemplative love. This love corresponds to the name Elokim — in the plural — referring to the myriad causes and forces that God utilizes to govern the universe.

Enshrining and Exalting

These two types of love differ in their constancy. The natural love of God as our Creator should be a constant and unwavering emotion, like our love and respect for our parents. But the elevated love, the product of contemplation and introspection, is nearly impossible to sustain continually, due to life’s distractions.

Regarding the innate love of God, the verse speaks of “enshrining” God. With this natural emotion, we can create a permanent place — an shrine of reverence and love for God — in our hearts. “This is my God, and I will enshrine Him.

The higher, contemplative love, on the other hand, does not benefit from this level of constancy. We should always strive for an ever-deeper appreciation and reverence for God. This is our spiritual goal, attained through our faculties of wisdom and insight. Regarding this level of love, it is appropriate to speak about “exalting” God — indicating an emotion that is the product of concentrated effort. “My father’s God, I will exalt Him.

(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, p. 235)

Illustration image: Pharaoh’s army engulfed by the Red Sea(Frederick Arthur Bridgman, 1900)

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