Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Eqev 5770/ July 31, 2010

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il

 

 

The Lord: Loving and Beloved [1]

 

Yonah Bar-Maoz

Department of Bible and  Mikraot Gedolot Ha- Keter

In the book of Deuteronomy Moses presents the Israelites (and us) with a commandment which was not found in the previous books of the Torah-- the commandment to love the Lord: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy G-d with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might". [2] This new mitzvah is mentioned no less than ten times in Deuteronomy. This innovation goes hand in hand with another unique commandment - the declaration that the Lord loves the nation of Israel: “And because He loved thy fathers, and chose their seed after them, and brought thee out with His presence, with His great power, out of Egypt" (Deut.4:37). This declaration is also emphasized by repeated references in a number of places in the book. [3]

 Moses enumerates the Lord's behavior towards Israel from the time it was chosen and proves that His behavior is motivated by the love that He has extended to Israel since the time of the forefathers. This love is so strong that it finds its expression even when speaking of the Lord's love for someone else: “He doth execute justice for the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger (Hebrew: ger), in giving him food and raiment." The immediate context hints that perhaps the source of G-d's love for the stranger is His love for Israel in Egypt: “Love ye therefore the stranger; for ye were strangers (gerim) in the land of Egypt" (Dt.10:18-19).

Why does Moses find it relevant to emphasize the Lord's love? An obvious explanation is that his aim is to inscribe upon the nation's soul the gratitude for the good that the Lord had bestowed upon them throughout their past. This feeling of gratitude will work somewhat as a shield to prevent them from abandoning the Lord's path and straying after other gods after his passing.

However, there is another important explanation which is less obvious. Moses provides it when he voices a serious claim that the nation had made towards the Lord and which is first revealed in Deuteronomy. The nation claimed that at the root of everything that had befallen them lies G-d's hatred: " And ye murmured in your tents, and said: 'Because the Lord hated us, He hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us" (Dt.1:27).

  Where did Moses hear such a claim, which is not mentioned before in the Torah?

It is essential to underscore that the book of Deuteronomy is a book of reproach from beginning to end. In it, Moses seizes the opportunity of his approaching death to ingrain in the nation the obligation to the Lord's words even in his absence. He does not just recount past events, but tries to explain them. In the first story mentioned by him, the story of the spies, he strives to find the source of the bitterness that brought the nation to consistently stray from the proper path and defy the Lord. If the source is found, perhaps it would be possible to uproot it, and thus allow the nation to better conduct itself in the future. And indeed, in his reproach, Moses reveals further dimensions of the nation' sins which were never before explored. [4]

We can assume that Moses understood that all the complaints of Israel arose from a feeling of dissatisfaction with the Lord's leadership, which is expressed by the words: "Because the Lord hated us."  As there was no real basis for this feeling, we must search deeper to find the cause of their persistent discontent.

In the spirit of our sages we can say: "Do not accuse your fellow man of the blemish you yourself have," [5] and in the terminology of modern psychology we can say that the nation projected its feelings upon the Lord. The nation perhaps hates the Lord but does not dare express it explicitly, and this repressed emotion is projected onto the object of their hatred and attributed to Him. That is why complaints persist about G-d's hate for them, with no factual basis.

In psychoanalysis, projection is defined as a personal defense mechanism in which the person projects the negative sides of his personality onto the world outside of him, and attributes them to other people. This way, he can ignore his own negative characteristics and drives. The psychologist Eric Erikson claimed that additionally, the projection is usually perverse and filled with animosity and fear. It has however a kernel of truth, since it is not by pure chance that the projecting person attributes that specific quality to the object he is projecting upon.

By this definition, it is clear why Moses emphasizes and exemplifies the Lord's love to the nation. He aims to entirely refute the claim of hatred embedded in the nation's heart, even if it is not openly manifested. He intentionally calls for mutuality in the relationship and asks that there be a loving relationship towards the Lord. In the end, the love for the Lord will be the most important expression for internalizing the knowledge that the nation is loved by the Lord, [6] and in reaction the nation will declare: " The Holy One, Blessed be He , we love you! "

While it is true that the commandment to love the Lord is absolute and not conditional upon the individual's personal fate, to the point that one has to be ready even to give up his life for the love of the Lord, [7] the basis for this commandment is the realization that the feeling of love is mutual, since the Lord loves each individual of Israel as part of his love for the nation of Israel in general.

However, Moses must explain the grain of truth which underlies the bad feelings of the nation, namely, the objective difficulties which beset them while they wandered in the desert. Thus, Moses depicts the starvation and hardship in the vast and horrible desert (Deut.8:3) as a veiled love, since the hardships served as a means of education: "Bear in mind that the Lord your G-d disciplines you just as a man disciplines his son" (Deut.8:5).

If the nation would internalize that the Lord's attitude is like that of a father towards his son, no doubts would arise in the face of difficult situations, since  the father's hidden love would be an underlying truth that could not be refuted. To return to the metaphor in the Torah, it is only the child's inability to comprehend that prevents him from realizing the direct expression of his father's love even in chastisement, like a small baby who undergoes a series of painful vaccinations, without being able to understand that the pain that he feels now is the clearest manifestation of his parents' love and concern for him.

At the same time, Moses also emphasizes the Lord's revealed blessings and goodness: the difficulties in " the great and dreadful wilderness, wherein were serpents, fiery serpents, and scorpions, and thirsty ground where was no water" need not overshadow the fact that there was close, loving Divine providence the entire way: "The clothes upon you did not wear out, nor did your feet swell, these forty years " (Dt. 8:4), and the Lord's bounty was great: "who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint" against all laws of nature   (Dt. 8:15).

The combination of the Lord's love to us with our love for Him is explicitly conveyed a few times in the blessing which our sages established before reading the Shma, in the blessing called Ahavah Rabbah: "And You have chosen us from among every people and language and You have brought us close to Your great Name forever in truth, to give thanks to You and proclaim Your Oneness with love. Blessed are You, the Lord, who chooses His people Israel with love".



[1] The English version of this article is dedicated to my grandchild Elyashiv, the son of Avraham Yeshaiah and Hinnanit Menczer of London, on his Bar Mitzva. May he love Hashem and may Hashem's love surround him for ever. I thank my niece, Yaara Levy, for the translation.

[2]   Dt. 6:5. This commandment is mentioned nine more times, three of which appear in Parashat Eqev: Dt. 10:12; 11:1; 11:13; 11:22; 13:4; 19:9; 30:6; 30:16; 30:20.

[3]    This declaration is stated three more times pertaining to the past, 7:8; 10:15; 23:6, and once more describing the future: 7:13.

 

[4] In the other books of the Torah there is a noticeable effort to spare us the shameful details of the sins of Israel, in order not to overshadow the positive side which earned the nation the right to be a chosen people. An outstanding example is found in the book of Exodus, in which the sins of the nation in Egypt were not mentioned at all; that is, the sins which justified the extended slavery and oppression endured by the nation. Only in chapter 20 of Ezekiel is the severity of the nation’s spiritual deterioration in Egypt revealed to us in detail.

[5] Mechilta of Rabbi Ishmael,(Mishpatim) Nezikin 18.

[6] The motif of love is so prominent in Deuteronomy that its opposite, the hatred claim, appears in our parasha as a possible argument by the other nations if the Lord will destroy Israel: “Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land which He promised unto them, and because He hated them, He hath brought them out to slay them in the wilderness" (9:28). Following our line of thought above, the source of this claim by the other nations is the hatred which they themselves feel towards The Lord and the nation of Israel, as Assaf said in Psalms 83:3-4: “For, lo, Thine enemies are in an uproar; and they that hate Thee have lifted up the head. They hold crafty converse against Thy people, and take counsel against Thy treasured ones".

[7] “'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God' etc. -   It has been taught: R. Eliezer says: If it says 'with all thy soul', why should it also say, 'with all thy might', and if it says 'with all thy might', why should it also say 'with all thy soul'? Should there be a man who values his life more than his money, for him it says; 'with all thy soul'; and should there be a man who values his money more than his life, for him it says, 'with all thy might'. R. Akiba says: With all thy soul': even if He takes away thy soul"        ( Bavli Berachot 61b).