In the previous letter, we discussed how the concluding words of the Shema – “Hashem is One” (Deut. 6:4) – allude to the Divine love. It is therefore relevant to point out that the prayer that we say before chanting the Shema focuses on the Divine love. The morning version of this prayer opens with the words: “With an abundant love have You loved us, Hashem, our God.” And the evening version of this prayer opens with the words: “With an eternal love have You loved the Family of Israel, Your people.”
Why, at night, is the focus on “eternal” Divine love? I would like to suggest the following reason: Within our Sacred Scriptures, the night is often a symbol for the period of exile that we experience both personally and collectively as a process of purification, elevation, and/or atonement. (An example of how “night” can refer to exile is cited in the “Related Teachings” which appear at the end of this letter.) During the “night” of exile, we may mistakenly think that Hashem no longer loves us. We therefore emphasize at “night” that the Divine love is eternal, as Hashem proclaimed to our people at the onset of exile:
“And I have loved you with an eternal love, therefore I have extended lovingkindness to you. I shall yet rebuild you and you shall be rebuilt, O Maiden of Israel; you will yet adorn yourself with drums and go forth in the round-dance of the joyful. You will yet plant vineyards in the mountains of Samaria; the planters will plant and redeem. For there will be a day when watchmen will call out on Mount Ephraim: ‘Arise, let us ascend to Zion, to Hashem our God.’ For thus said Hashem: Sing, O Jacob, with joy, exult on the peaks of the nations; proclaim it, praise God, and say: ‘O Hashem, save Your people, the remnant of Israel.’ Behold, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, the pregnant and the birthing together; a great congregation will return here. With weeping they will come, and through supplications I will bring them; I will guide them on streams of water, on a direct path in which they will not stumble; for I have been a father to Israel and Ephraim is My firstborn.” (Jeremiah 31: 2-8)
“Ephraim is My firstborn” – The classical commentator, Rabbi Yosef Kara, explains that “Ephraim” in this verse refers to the entire People of Israel, who are called the “firstborn” (Exodus 4:22).
The above words of comfort and hope from the Loving One were addressed to our suffering people who have been brutally persecuted among the nations. The Prophet then proclaims to the nations:
“Hear the word of Hashem, O nations, relate it in distant islands, and say, ‘The One Who scattered Israel will gather him in and guard him as a shepherd does his flock.’ For Hashem will have redeemed Jacob and delivered him from a hand mightier than he. And they will come and sing joyously on the height of Zion; they will stream to Hashem’s bounty – upon grain, upon wine, upon oil, and upon young sheep and cattle; then their soul shall be like a well-watered garden, and they shall not continue to agonize anymore. Then the maiden shall rejoice in the round-dance, young men and old men together; I shall transform their mourning into joy, and I shall comfort them and gladden them after their grief.” (31:9-12)
The Prophet also states that towards the end of the exile, “Ephraim” will experience regret over his past mistakes and failures, and he will cry out, “I was ashamed and humiliated, for I bore the disgrace of my youth” (31:18). The Prophet therefore conveys this additional message of Divine comfort and reassurance:
“Is not Ephraim My precious child, the child of My tender care? For whenever I speak of him, I remember him more and more; therefore My innards yearn for him; I will surely have compassion upon him, spoke Hashem.” (31:19)
These comforting words are expressing the “motherly” concern of the Loving One, and Rashi, in his commentary on the above verse, writes: “These are the words of the Shechinah.”
Will the other nations also merit to experience this filial relationship with the Loving One? In the first segment of the above prophecy of Jeremiah that we cited, Hashem proclaimed, “Ephraim is My firstborn” – a reminder that Israel’s spiritual “birth” will be followed by the “birth” of the other children of the Loving One. In an earlier prophecy, Jeremiah conveyed a similar Divine message when he proclaimed:
“Israel is holy to Hashem, the first of His harvest” (Jeremiah 2:3).
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary on these words, writes:
The whole of humankind is summoned to a filial relationship to Hashem. Everywhere in the whole of humanity Hashem awaits the seed of a pure human species - the germ of which He has planted in every soul – to come up. He furthers this shooting by the fate that he ordains. Israel is only the first fruit, the first reaping which matures for Him on the human soil.
The other nations will therefore seek to return to Hashem and thereby experience the close relationship with Hashem that Israel merited to experience. A reference to their new and close relationship with Hashem is found in the following prophecy:
“Sing and be glad, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming, and I will dwell in your midst - spoke Hashem. Many nations will join themselves to Hashem on that day, and they will become a people unto Me, and I will dwell in your midst” (Zechariah 2:14,15).
This Wednesday begins a two-day commemoration of Rosh Chodesh – the New Moon. May the Loving One bless us with a month of physical and spiritual renewal. And may we soon experience the fulfillment of all the above prophecies.
Shalom, and a Chodesh Tov – A Good Month!
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. It is written: “Many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek out Hashem, God of the hosts of creation, in Jerusalem, and to supplicate before Hashem. Thus said Hashem, God of the hosts of creation: In those days it will happen that ten men, of all the languages of the nations, will take hold, they will take hold of the corner of the garment of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you!’ ” (Zechariah 8:22,23)
2. The Loving One has promised to redeem us and humanity. Although our exile is not yet over, we have faith that this promise will be fulfilled. The classical commentator, Rashi, finds a reference to this idea in the following words from the Psalm for Shabbos :
“Your faithfulness in the nights” (Psalm 92:3) – During the distress of the exile, we believe in You that You will keep your promise. (Rashi).
3. In the previous letter, we mentioned that
the most sacred Divine Name expresses the
Divine “ahavah” - love. Hazon participant,
Yiftach Paltrowitz, found a similar teaching
in the siddur (classical prayer book) of
Rabbi Shabatai of Roshkov, a disciple of the
Baal Shem Tov. (Page 90b)