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Home » B'Midbar Parshah, Family Life

Bamidbar: G-d’s Love

Submitted by on May 5, 2013 – 5:55 amNo Comment | 3,798 views

Does He Need A Census?

The book of numbers opens with G-d directing Moses to take a national census,[1] which begs an obvious question. Does an All Knowing G-d require a census to know the precise number of Jews? This question is only amplified when you consider that this was the second time that year that Moses was ordered to count the people.[2]

Our sages taught that G-d ordered the census out of love. Simply put, G-d loves to count his children akin to a man who counts his diamonds and rubies at every opportunity though he knows precisely how many gems he owns. He cherishes his gems and loves to feel them, touch them and count them over and over again.[3]

But We Are So Small

The theme of G-d’s love for us is common in the Torah and classic Jewish literature, but have you ever wondered how an infinite G-d can carry on a loving relationship with a finite people? Relationships require common denominator to serve as platforms. It’s not possible to have a relationship with something that has nothing in common with you.

You can develop a relationship with a human even if you don’t like him/her because your humanness is your commonality. You can have a relationship with an animal because you both have intellect and emotions. Yours is much more sophisticated, but they have one too. Among animals, it is easier to relate to a dog because of how expressive it is, love - innerstreambut in theory it is possible to bond even with a spider. But can you imagine bonding with an ant? How about a flee or a tick? Let’s take it further, can you imagine developing a relationship with a brick, a pebble or even a speck of dust?

Surely you scoff at the very idea. How can you relate to something that has absolutely nothing in common with you. It cannot stand, walk, think and talk. How will you bond? What will be the basis for your relationship? Yet, the distance between a human and an insect is let us say one to a million or let’s be generous and call it a billion, but the distance between a human and G-d in infinite. A trillion is further from infinity than it is from one because the distance between a trillion and one is measurable, albeit in trillions, but measurable, the distance between a trillion and infinity is infinite.

Yet G-d carries on a relationship with us and claims to love us. How is this possible?

The Soul is G-dly

The answer is that we are not bodies that have souls. We are souls that inhabit bodies. It is a question of identity. Do you see yourself as a human being with a G-dly soul or a G-dly soul in a human body? Much more germane to our discussion is how does G-d see us? When He looks down, He sees souls, Divine fragments of Himself, inhabiting human bodies. A soul is part of G-d and shares kinship with G-d. With a soul, it is possible for G-d to develop a relationship, with a body, much less so.

This nice and tidy answer provides neatly for our question, but it only raises another question. If indeed my soul is sublime and able to relate to an infinite G-d, how does it fit into my body? Every aspect of my experiential self is finite. My thoughts, words, actions, feelings, understanding and psyche are all finite. Yet, I am told that somewhere within me there is a soul and that this soul comprises the true essence of myself and somehow this soul is on par with the infinite while I am rooted firmly in finitude. How can this be? If a round peg can’t fit into a square hole, how does G-d fit a Divine soul into a physical body?

Where There Is Love

Here we introduce a delightful Talmudic expression, “Love contracts the flesh.”[4] There is a similar saying in English, “Where there is room in the heart there is room at the hearth.” People, who can’t fit into tight spaces under ordinary circumstances somehow make due when they are in love. You might wonder how you will put up your entire family when they visit your bachelor apartment, yet you somehow make due because what you lack for in space you more than make up for in love.

One of the sages was fond of saying that when in love two people can sleep on the sharp edge of a sword.[5] He wasn’t referring to sleeping in dangerous places, but in confined spaces; the space required to house the finely honed edge of a sharp sword. Can you imagine two fully grown adults fitting into such tight confines? Of course not, but the point is made. When in love we push, squeeze and make do even in tight spaces we could never otherwise manage.

This romantic notion is true, but it has its limitations. You cannot fit a fully grown elephant into a needle hole no matter how much the elephant loves needles, but G-d, who is Omnipotent, can. We are willing to tolerate contractions for love because we were made in G-d’s image. Just as G-d contracts Himself to fit into tight spaces out of love, so do we. Naturally, our ability to contract is limited. G-d’s is not. He made us in His likeness so that we would better understand His motives and techniques. He fits into tight spaces for our sake because He loves us and we can relate to that because we do the same in the context of our relationships.

G-d is infinite. He occupies the infinite expanse of untold realms, yet, He contracted His infinite expanse to descend on Mount Sinai. An infinite G-d, on a small mountain top. He then instructed Moses to build a tabernacle in which He would dwell, prompting King Solomon to wonder aloud, “The heavens and skies cannot contain you, yet you fit into this house?”[6]

In our Shabbat Kiddush benediction we proclaim that G-d granted us His Shabbat with love and desire. Shabbat, as we discussed in a previous essay, is a time of absolute Divine revelation. How can G-d grant us His Shabbat? How can we be granted the full revelation of G-d’s infinite grandeur?

The answer is, with love. Love contracts the flesh. Where there is room in the heart there is room on the hearth. G-d grants us and enables us to properly absorb far more than our natural capacity and he does so with love. When we ask, how can a lofty and sublime soul, one worthy of G-d’s love, fit into a finite human body, the answer is, with love.

Where love is present, anything is possible. Let us always remember that G-d loves us. The real question is, do we love Him back and if so, do we express it?[7]

[1] Number 1:2.

[2] See Rashi Exodus 30: 16.

[3] Tanchumah Bamidbar 4. See also Rashi to Numbers 1: 1.

[4] Babylonian Talmud, Baba Mezia 84a.

[5] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 7a. The Talmud explains that he was talking about the relationship between G-d and the Jews. When we were meritorious G-d contracted Himself to stand upon the Ark. When we sinned, the entire Temple was not large enough.

[6] Kings I 8:27.

[7] This essay is based on Tanya 46 – 49.

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