How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death. This poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning expresses well the all-consuming passion that two human beings can have when they are in love. That sense of passionate love is also given voice in the Hebrew Scriptures, when the prophets write about the love of G-d and Israel. In the poem that we read tomorrow in parasha Haazinu, it says – G-d found you in the desert In a desolate wasteland A howling wilderness. He encircled you, protected you, Guarded you like the apple of His eye. “I found you in the desert?” Didn’t G-d “find” the Israelites in Egypt, when they were enslaved there? Perhaps another verse, this from the prophet Jeremiah that appears in our Rosh Hashannah service, can help clarify the matter: “I remember in thy favor, the devotion of my youth, thy love as a bride, when you went after me in the desert, in a land that was not sown.” How passionate. Here, Israel is compared to a bride who falls in love with her groom in the wilderness of Sinai. Israel and G-d are like a young couple, passionately in love, having nothing but one another — in a desert that was not sown. It is as if G-d’s encounter with Israel in Egypt was like an arranged marriage, with each side dutifully contracting with each other out of a sense of family obligation. The love ignites in the desert. That is where Israel and G-d truly “found” one another, recognized the true beauty of one another – fell in love. As with many great loves, there are stormy times as well as loving ones. But G-d is saying, for the first time I fell in love with the Jewish people, and I knew they would return that love forever. This love between G-d and Israel in this metaphor is not like the love between a parent and child. Not like the love between friends. Not like the love between a King and his subjects. This love is an erotic love. This story is told in the Babylonian Talmud: R. Kattinna said: Whenever Israel came up to a Festival, the priests would roll up the curtain before the ark and they would show them the Cherubim, whose bodies were intertwined with one another, and the priests would say to Israel, “Look! You are beloved before G-d as the love between a man and a woman!” R. Lakish said: When the heathen conquerors entered the Temple and saw the Cherubim whose bodies were intwined one with another, they carried them out and said: These Israelites, whose blessing is a blessing and whose curse is a curse, occupy themselves with such things? And immediately they despised them…… The heathen could not understand. To them, the holy cherubim looked like pornography, and they lost all respect for the Jewish religion. Of course they failed to understand what this symbolized to us — the passion by which Israel and G-d loved one another. This is why a book of erotic poetry, Shir Hashirim, The Song of Songs, was included by the rabbis into the cannon of the Bible. Rabbi Akiba, famously, argued for its inclusion. This was no love story between a man and a woman, he argued. It was a metaphor for the love between G-d and Israel. Rabbi Akiva said that if all of scriptures was holy, Shir HaShirim was the holy of holies. Shir HaShirm imagines a young woman, Israel, seeking G-d as she wanders in the city late at night:
The watchmen who patrol the city found me. Have you seen the One I love? The watchmen who patrol the city found me They struck me, they bruised me. The guards of the wall stripped me of my mantle. Swear to me, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved That you tell him that love sick am I. Im tim-tse-oo et do-di mah ta-gi-du lo she holat ahava ani In 1534, at the age of 31, , Eliezer Azkiri, who is the author of Yedid Nefesh, recorded this poem in his diary. To be lit up in your light always Talking with Him and walking with Him In silence with Him and sleeping with Him and waking with Him Sitting with Him and standing with Him and lying with Him All of my movements are for Him. What do you have in your Jewish life that you are passionate about? Music … Torah Study… Worship…. The Hebrew Language ….. Israel…. G-d… Social Action……Jewish Travel. Resolve this New Year to explore what you might be passionate about in Jewish life. Fall in love with Judaism. It is what G-d wants of us.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.