A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
TWO TYPES OF LOVE OF GOD FOR THE JEWISH PEOPLE
MARCH 19-20, 2010/ 5 NISAN 5770
By Rabbi Avi Weiss
The Book of Leviticus opens with the word Va-yikra, "and He [the Lord] called." (Leviticus 1:1) Rashi points out that va-yikra is a term of endearment. The text tells us that God spoke to Moshe (Moses) from the Tent of Meeting. Rashi understands this to mean God's calling came from the two cherubs atop the Ark.
Rabbi Avi Weiss is Founder and Dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the Open Orthodox Rabbinical School, and Senior Rabbi of The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.
The Talmud explains that the cherubs were in the form of children embracing with wings at their sides lifting towards each other, heavenward. (Hagigah 13b) What is the significance of this image and what does it mean in light of the fact that it was the seat of God's endearing love?
The Hagaddah, which is read at the seder a few days after reading the portion of Va-yikra, may offer the answer. On that night, we relate to God through two different types of love.
On the one hand, there is the love described in the book Shir Ha-Shirim, The Song of Songs, recited by many after the seder. It is the type of love of a lover for his beloved, reflective of God's intense love for the Jewish people. There is no love more powerful, there is no love more deep.
But even that intense love has it limits. Spousal relationships are humanly made and can also be terminated. In fact the Torah tells us that if a woman divorces and marries another, she can never return to her first husband. What would happen when the Jewish people rebel against God for other beliefs? If reconciliation is not possible, how can they reunite with the Lord?
Thus, in the Haggadah, another form of God's love emerges. It is the love of a parent to a child. This is the love accentuated at the outset of the seder through the presentation of the four children, the four questions and the telling of the Exodus story. Perhaps this love is not as passionate as spousal love, but it contains a quality that spousal love does not have, the element of eternality. It lasts forever. A parent child relationship can never terminate. The love of parent to child expressed at the seder is a reflection of God interacting with his people as the parent par excellence.
This then can be the meaning of the cherubs, of the little children embracing. It is symbolic of two loves, the spousal love of embrace and the parent/child unbreakable love. Together, these two types of love lifts one heavenward, much like the wings of the cherubs pointing to the sky.
The seder actually balances these two loves. Before the meal we emphasize parental love, which moves us to remember our past, as father and mother share the Passover story. After the meal we emphasize spousal love, the love of Shir Ha-Shirim, with all its trappings of bride and groom under the chupah with a dream of a beautiful future. We will be praying for the time when we hear God's voice in the spirit of the cherubs, of va-yikra, the language of true, authentic endearment.
Rabbi Avi Weiss