Photo Credit:
Rabbi Avi Weiss

The love between God and His people is often compared to the marital relationship.

The prophet Hoshea has God declaring: “And I will betroth you to Me forever” (Hoshea 2:21). The Song of Songs is similarly viewed as an allegory for the relationship between God and Am Yisrael.

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Indeed, throughout the year this imagery prevails. For example, every Friday evening we recite the Lecha Dodi – “Come my Beloved [referring to God], let us greet the Sabbath bride.”

And the holidays of the Jewish year evoke the picture of God’s love for us. On Passover we recall walking through the sea with the help of God, much like bride and groom walking to the chuppah. On Shavuot we reenact our hearing the Asseret HaDibrot which can be viewed as the ketubah, the marital contract between God and His people. On Sukkot we eat and some try to live in a sukkah, beneath the skhakh (sukkah roof), which can be seen as a kind of bridal canopy.

But of course this comparison has its limits. This week’s parshah records the right of husband and wife to divorce. And if following the divorce the wife marries another, she may never remarry her first husband (Deuteronomy 24:1‑4). Taking the analogy to its fullest, does this mean that we, the Jewish people, can permanently separate from God?

It is during the days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that a new picture of love between God and His people emerges. It is the idea that we are God’s children and God is a parent figure. Thus, we recite Avinu Malkeinu – referring to God as our Father. So too do we speak of God as Hashem Hashem Keil rachum (the Lord is a God of mercy). The word rachum comes from the word rechem, womb, conveying the idea of a mother’s infinite love for her young.

The difference is obvious. A husband-wife relationship can be terminated. But no matter what happens in life, a parent always remains a parent. Similarly, God’s love for us is limitless. Even if we separate from Him, even if we “marry another,” we can always return and God will always embrace us.

One last thought. Even the parental relationship has its limits, since no one lives forever. God, however, is the Eternal Parent. Hence during these days we recite Psalm 27, in which we proclaim, “Even if my father and mother have left me, God will gather me in.”

Our relationship with God parallels the deep love between husband and wife. It intersects with a parent’s love for a child. In fact, it transcends all. It is as deep and deeper than a spousal encounter, and it is beyond the endlessness of a parent’s love for a child. It is eternal.

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Rabbi Avi Weiss is founding president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. His memoir of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” was recently published by Toby Press.
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