#BlogElul 23: Love
August 29, 2013
I know that assertion seems strange to some of us, but I really believe that it's true.
Every morning we sing that God loves us with a great love -- ahavah rabbah ahavtanu. "You have loved us with a great love." Your love for us is so great that You give us Torah, a collection of stories and ideas and teachings to live by, as a parent lovingly gives their child stories and ideas and teachings to live by.
(I've been reading Heschel's Torah Min HaShamayim / Torah From Heaven recently, so I can't help being aware that I've just articulated the kind of view that Rabbi Ishmael would have espoused. Rabbi Akiva, in contrast, would argue that Torah is supernal and is inherently, mystically, holy -- the point isn't that it's rules to live by, the point is that it offers access to God. Well: either way, I suppose, Torah is an expression of divine love for us.)
Every night we sing that God loves us with an unending love, a forever love, a love which spans worlds. Ahavat olam beit Yisrael amcha ahavta -- "You have loved the house of Israel with an ahavat olam, an unending love!" Or, in the words of Rabbi Rami Shapiro's beautiful poem, set to music so lovingly by Shir Yaakov, We are loved by unending love. (I love that setting and that melody. We'll use it at our evening services during the Days of Awe this year at my shul.)
God's love for us is unending and infinite. I believe that the whole of creation, from the most microcosmic particles to the vastest galaxies, is an expression of divine love. God so overflows with divine love that God brings creation into being in order to have somewhere to direct that love, in order to have conscious beings with whom God can be in loving relationship.
And the Days of Awe are all about love. Even the parts which seem, on the surface, to be about justice and repentance. Because God loves us, we are always already forgiven...but that doesn't obviate our need to do the work of teshuvah, to repair what's been broken in our selves and our relationships and our world.
A few weeks ago when the Wednesday morning coffee shop clergy met (to read some of the aforementioned Heschel) we wound up in a conversation about our liturgy and whether/why it matters. One of my colleagues offered the metaphor that all of our fine liturgies, our prayers, our melodies, all of the high pomp and circumstance of these most elevated services of the year...are like a finger-painting a child proudly brings home to the parent. And because that parent loves their kid, they say "How beautiful, sweetie! I love it! I'll hang it on the fridge!"
No loving parent would ever say "Wow, that's a terrible drawing; what kind of artist do you think you are? You should be embarrassed to even bring that into my house." We try so hard to have grand high holiday services, to follow all of the rules and the customs of our communities, to make these services as perfect as possible. And sure, our efforts matter. But God isn't up there somewhere muttering to Himself, "what terrible artists. They should be embarrassed to even bring that into My house." God is the loving parent Who says, "How beautiful, sweetie -- you made Me a service! I love it! I'll treasure it."
Because God knows we're doing the best we can do. With our services -- with our spiritual lives -- with our lives writ large. And God loves us even though we make mistakes all the time, and even though our art isn't so great. We are loved by unending love. Even if we haven't set foot inside a synagogue since last Yom Kippur, even if we've been steadfastly ignoring God and forgetting to check in every day and every week and every month, even if we've screwed up royally. We are loved. And because we are loved, we have the strength to love in return.