Friday, May 29, 2015

Allowing ourselves to be loved

Commenting on my previous post, my bestie Karma Dude expanded on the parable from the Ba'al Shem Tov, stating that at some point the "child" in question needs to succeed - and recognize that success - in order not to give up hope. Because if the child continues to fall down and fail without any insight into the rationale of the exercise or without understanding his "absent" father's intent, he'll come to see Him as forever distant and get distracted.

It's a really good point, and I think it does happen. A lot.

But I think a fundamental misunderstanding is at play here (although I'm not attributing this to Karma Dude) that makes the concern all the more real. The concept of a loving God - despite the fact that it's explicit in the texts that we say daily in our prayers - is a foreign one in our community; it simply isn't taught or acknowledged in any meaningful way. Our focus is primarily on our end of the relationship - we must love God, we must serve Him, and service performed out of love is the highest form of avodah. We need to be cognizant of that, ever-aware of our duty to arouse love within ourselves and others for our Father in Heaven in order to succeed in our this-worldly mission. But the other side of that coin is understanding that we are in a reciprocal relationship that starts with God's love toward His creations.
He (Rav Akiva) used to say – Beloved is man, for he was created in G-d's Image; it is indicative of a greater love that it was made known to him that he was created in G-d's image, as it is said: 'For in the image of G-d has He made man' [Bereshis 9:6]. Beloved are the people Israel for they are described as children of the Omnipresent; it is indicative of a greater love that it was made known to them that they are described as children of the Omnipresent, as it is said, 'You are children to Hashem, Your G-d' [Devorim 14:1]. - Avot 3:18
When was the last time a rebbi in Yeshiva gave a shmuess that focused on this point? I know many folks who had never heard the words "God loves you," until much later on in life when a mentor or a special teacher revealed that truth to them. I'm under the impression that this is a revelation for many, if at all, and that is very sad. This is something that needs to be articulated, explicitly stated, not assumed to be axiomatic or learned through some osmotic process. What can we do to achieve this paradigm shift?

Thankfully, there are contemporary sources and individuals that belabor this point. The reader is directed to the sifrei Chassidut, some of the latter-day mussar works, and Torah personalities such as Rav Tzvi Meir Zilberberg and the late Slonimer Rebbe. And we must strive to create more English language texts either translated or based on works from Rav Kook and others that deal with this matter extensively. One specific book that comes to mind is GPS! Navigation for the Soul based on the teachings of the Nesivos Shalom which is specifically geared towards teenagers and young adults, but can be read by anybody. The authors spill a great amount of ink making this point in an engaging manner.

And of course, teach your kids. Make it as immutable as anything else in their chinuch - equate it with your own unconditional love, and make it a reality for them.

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