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God loves you. Deal with it.

God loves you. Deal with it.
God loves you. Deal with it.

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What are the three little words that rabbis almost never, ever, say to their congregations?

Hold on, because I am about to say them.

God loves you.

That is the topic of Rabbi Shai Held’s new book, “Judaism Is About Love,” which is also the topic of today’s “Martini Judaism” podcast.

Wait a second, you are saying, isn’t this supposed to be Martini Judaism — not Martini Evangelical Christianity? Am I reading the wrong column, or has Jeff Salkin decided to convert?

Neither.

But, I cannot blame you.

Let’s face it: “God loves you” is not how the world views Judaism.

It’s not how Jews view Judaism or God either.

I googled the words “God loves you.”

Within a nanosecond, I got 440,000,000 hits — all of them, so far as I could tell, on Christian web sites.

Having obviously far too much time on my hands, I then googled the phrase “God loves the Jews.”

45,300,000 hits —  again, on Christian web sites!

Think of this: the only people in the world who are saying that “God loves the Jews,” are non-Jews!

The very idea that God loves us has wound up in the garbage disposal of history.

We have forgotten and abandoned this sublime and comforting idea, and we are the poorer for that amnesia and abandonment. 

I invite you to re-embrace that idea — that God loves each of us individually as human beings and that God loves the Jews.

A conversation with Shai Held, regarding his new book on the topic …

Our liturgy proclaims it very clearly — for starters, in the Shabbat evening liturgy:

  • The ahavat olam prayer: “with eternal love You have loved us” — and the sign of that love? The Torah and its laws.
  • In the Avot prayer, we chant that God will bring us redemption for the sake of our ancestors b’ahavah, in love.
  • In the Kiddush, we chant that God gives us Shabbat b’ahavah, with love….

Henry Slonimsky, one of the most ignored and unheralded Jewish teachers of the last century, put it this way: “God is primarily a great heart, caring most for what seems to be important and sacred to us, namely, our loves and aspirations and sufferings.”

I like to think of Judaism as the story of a romance.

  • Act One: God meets people. That is the patriarchal period. The Jewish people begins when God, for no apparent reason — this is how the mystics put it — God fell in love with Abraham, and with Isaac, and with Jacob.
  • Act Two: God and people date. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the matriarchs — all have conversations with God.
  • Act Three: During the sojourn in Egypt, God and people are out of touch.
  • Act Four: God hears the cries of the beloved coming from Egypt.
  • Act Five: God remembers that love.
  • Act Six: God and the Jewish people get married at Sinai (which will happen a few weeks from now, on Shavuot). It is why on Shavuot some communities actually write a ketuba between God and the Jewish people.
  • Act Seven: Then comes the business with the Golden Calf. A big disappointment. A bad day in the marriage.
  • Act Eight: We endure God’s perhaps petulant or even passive-aggressive silence. For much of the later parts of the Jewish Bible, God says nothing.
  • Act Nine: We and God re-invent our relationship over and over again. The Temple is destroyed; the Jews rebuild it; the Romans destroy it again; the Jews figure out new ways of demonstrating their love for God.

When we study Torah, do you really want to know what is happening?

It is as if we have entered into that romance with God.

We read every word of Torah, listening to its nuances and wondering aloud and in sacred community about its meaning …

It is the same way that we read the email, or listen to the voice mail, or read the text message from our lover and wonder about what he said and she did not say and the way he said it and the pauses when she said it.

What did he mean — “see you on Friday, I guess?”

What kind of message is that?

What does ‘I guess’ mean?

And then you find yourself sitting around listening and re-listening to that voice mail, wondering about all the nuances and tonal qualities.

Why did she type “g2g” in that text message?

I know it means “gotta go,” but is that really the way you type a message like that to someone you claim to love?

If you’ve ever been in love, you know exactly what I mean.

In the Zohar, the cardinal text of Jewish mysticism, the author imagines the Torah Herself (yes, herself — in the Jewish imagination, the Torah is always feminine).

The Torah is a kind of Rapunzel, waiting coquettishly in her tower while her lover tries to find her and rescue her and even ravish her. Our love affair with Torah is perhaps the closest way that we can understand our love affair with God.

Where did we lose the idea that Judaism is about love?

Our history has bruised us and battered us, and it has forced us to be deaf to our own beautiful traditions.

To quote the late chief rabbi of Great Britain, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: “Once upon a time, we saw ourselves as the people that God loves. Now, all too many of us define ourselves as the people that the world hates.”

Yes, I am painfully aware of what is happening in the world right now — and especially in this country — with the frightening rise of antisemitism.

But the idea that we are the people whom the world hates is a pathetic distortion of our faith and our fate.

Because, do you know why countless generations of Jews were able to stand up to Jew-hatred?

Because no matter what befell them, they had faith in God’s love.

We still do. Thank you, Shai Held, for bringing that idea back.

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