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Unconditional Love (Shoftim – 09/03/22)

Unconditional Love

We’re now more than one week into Elul, the month directly preceding Rosh Hashanah. As it’s a preparation month for the High Holidays, we blow the shofar daily to get us into the renewal and purification spirit. Additionally, every day we read Psalm 27 which touches upon themes of trust in God’s protection and benevolence.

The last two lines are:

לוּלֵא הֶאֱמַֽנְתִּי, לִרְאוֹת בְּטוּב יְיָ, בְּאֶֽרֶץ חַיקַוֵּה אֶל יְיָ, חֲזַק וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּֽךָ, וְקַוֵּה אֶל יְיָ

“If only I had the assurance that I would enjoy the goodness of God in the land of the living.

Hope to God; be strong and of good courage and hope to God!”

In the Hebrew text, there are dots over the word, “Lulei, If only”. The Talmud (Brachot 4a) asks:

Why do dots appear over the word lulei, as if there are some reservations? Because David said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: “Master of the Universe. I have every confidence in You that You grant an excellent reward to the righteous in the World-to-Come since God’s ultimate goodness is manifest in the land of eternal life, but I still harbor uncertainty with regard to myself, and I do not know whether or not I definitely have a portion among them”.

שֶׁמָּא יִגְרוֹם הַחֵטְא

The Gemara explains: He was simply concerned lest a transgression that he might commit in the future will cause him to lose his opportunity to look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

The Gemara cites proof that this is reasonable from a different case where Rabbi Ya’akov bar Idi raised a contradiction between two verses. It is written that God told Jacob in his vision of the ladder: “Behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go” (Genesis 28:15), yet when Jacob returned to Canaan and realized that Esau was coming to greet him, it is written: “And Jacob became very afraid, and he was pained” (Genesis 32:8). Why did Jacob not rely on God’s promise? Jacob had concerns and said to himself: Lest a transgression that I might have committed after God made His promise to me will cause God to revoke His promise of protection.

As a seeker of spiritual truths, I find these teachings troubling for they make God’s love, and hence our own worthiness, conditional.

Surely, we can make mistakes that will affect us. But if we accept that God loves us unconditionally, then there’s nothing we can do that will sever that love.

Unfortunately, much of the Torah is based upon God’s conditional love. If we keep all the commands, we’ll be blessed, and if we don’t, we’re in trouble. I believe this was spirituality and Judaism 1.0. Yet, just as humankind has progressed in technological understanding, so too have we progressed in spiritual understanding. From the many varied sources that I have learned, from the teachings of the Chassidic Masters to accounts of people returning from near-death experiences to the writings of modern-day spiritual leaders, all concur concerning God’s unconditional love.

If we can’t rely upon God’s love and support of us at all times, then who can we rely upon?

Perhaps we can interpret the words of the Psalmist differently:

לוּלֵא הֶאֱמַֽנְתִּי, לִרְאוֹת בְּטוּב יְיָ, בְּאֶֽרֶץ חַי

“If only I believed that I’d see God’s goodness in the Land of the living,” i.e., this world. Sometimes, we see a reward for our deeds or get exactly what we want, and sometimes not. The Psalmist then encourages us to have hope. However, whether we’re rewarded in this world or not is not a matter of God’s love. God loves and treasures us all and at all times.

Wishing you a great week,

R’ Neil

Manetto Hill Jewish Center
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