If you google the words “God loves us,” the first page of hits contains all Christian websites. I don’t think this an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) problem; I think it is a statement that we are not good at reminding ourselves and our students through discussion or text study that God loves us. The sources are plentiful...
TaNaKH [Bible]: Zephaniah 3:17--A-donai your God, who is in your midst, is a mighty savior, He will rejoice over you with joy, He will be silent in His love, He will delight over you with blissful singing.
Tefillah [Prayer]: Morning Shema Blessings:Blessed are You, God, Who loves His nation, Israel.
Rambam [Maimonides]: Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 7:Let not a penitent imagine that he is removed at a distance from the degree of the righteous on account of the iniquities and sins which he had committed. It is not so, but he is beloved and desirable before the Creator, as if he had never sinned.
Talmud: Tractate Taanit 20a:Nakdimon went back and entered the Temple, wrapped himself in his prayer shawl, and stood in prayer. He said before God: Master of the Universe, let it be known that You have beloved ones in Your world. Immediately, the clouds scattered and the sun shined.
Midrash Rabbah: Bemidbar Rabbah 8:2: --They love me, and I also love them.
The 16th Century Lurianic kabbalists believed the only reason God created humanity was to have someone upon whom to shed love. Their rationale was that God, being perfect, can neither want nor need anything, meaning the reason to create the world was solely to share Heavenly love with cognitive, free-willed beings.
Knowing our texts and traditions underscore God’s love for us, it is essential we prevent students from misunderstanding the notion of a “jealous and wrathful” God. What follows is a simplified summary of Rambam’s approach to and explanation of God’s emotions as formulated in his Guide to the Perplexed; 1:56-67.
To say that God is the wisest or most powerful is to imply that God’s wisdom or power bears some likeness to ours. Contrasted with God’s, the power manifested by us is finite and measurable. Therefore, it is not true to say that God’s power is greater than ours, that God’s life is more permanent than ours, that God’s knowledge is broader than ours, or that God’s will is more universal than ours. If that were the case then God could be put on the same scale as ours, meaning God is a bigger, stronger, better version of something in the created order, such as humans. In that vein, God does not possess emotions similar to ours, but the effects of God’s actions resemble the effects of our emotions.
When we say, therefore, that God is “jealous” or “angry”, it is not human jealousy or anger that God is manifesting; it is a reflection of what we, as humans, interpret to be jealousy or anger. Those emotions control us, but nothing controls God. God’s jealousy and anger are not emotions parallel to what we might embody; they are a thought-out plan for the benefit of humanity.
A sure way to turn students away from Judaism is to promote a notion of a wrathful God in study, discussion, or even our own engagement with them as humans loved by God. We cannot minimize through word or deed that God has and always will, in an abiding and unyielding fashion, love us. Even when bad things happen to good people, that is not a manifestation of lack of Divine love, but a function of earthly existence, whether you see it as a punishment or consequence of an action, or even as unrelated to one’s particular experience.
In what ways can we do better in embodying and sharing the notion with students that, first and foremost, God loves all of humanity and manifests a supplemental parental love for the Jewish people and the land of Israel?