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For the week of August 17, 2013 / 11 Elul 5773
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10


What Is Love?

But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 23:5; ESV)

I was almost hit by a car the other day. I was getting out of my vehicle, when a red sports car in the same lane I was parked was speeding right toward me trying to (illegally) pass a car in the outside lane. I pressed myself against the side of my vehicle as closely as I could as the sports car found a narrow opening between me and the car he was passing. I was in a bit of shock as I thought about what almost was. "Just a few more inches and he would have plowed right into me," played over and over again in my mind. Then I remembered the other "almosts" of my life: I almost died of the croup at 6 months, I almost died of dehydration at 11 years. Then there was the time a friend stopped to give me a ride. As I was putting something in their trunk, another car was slowly coming up behind with lots of time to stop, but for some reason I can't remember, I moved out of the way as the vehicle slammed into the rear end of the car I had been standing behind. I still shutter at the thought of my legs almost being sandwiched between those two cars. Almost.

Some of you reading or listening to this may respond differently to such happenings. You perhaps would think about how wonderful it is that these almosts didn't happen. I understand. I know I should be so grateful for all the things that haven't happened to me. I am grateful, but for some reason I tend to focus more on the horrible things that almost happened than the actual good outcomes.

I don't want to get into the psychology of why I am this way, not this week at least. Rather, I want to look at how I should be thinking. This week's Torah portion refers to an almost that happened to Israel during their years in the wilderness. The King of Moab hired a sorcerer named Bilaam (or Balaam) to curse Israel in his desire to undermine them (see Bemidbar / Number 22-24). It didn't work. Every time Bilaam attempted to curse Israel, blessing came from his mouth. Why? God's love. Because the Master of the Universe loves Israel, he stopped the bad thing from happening. More than that, he caused good to happen instead.

I, like many others, have often wondered what love is. It seems to me what most people today mean by it is "desirous affection." The word "love" is most often used as a very intense form of "like" usually with the intent of wanting, having, or keeping the stated object, whether it be human or something else. The focus of love is usually not the one being loved, but the lover and his or her own desires.

But this is not the meaning of love as we find it in our portion. Love here is best described in one of the ways my wife tries to explain her love for me. As I mentioned my tendency with my almosts has been to focus on the negative things that theoretically could have happened instead of the positive actual outcomes. Similarly, I have also tended to interpret intentions of others towards me as negative. This has caused me to interpret motives, including of those closest to me, incorrectly. To counter this my wife has told me countless times, "I am for you." That's true love - the wanting and the doing good to and for another person. That's what God's love is. It is not some warm fuzzy feeling on God's part. Nor is it a way of saying he likes us a lot. To know God's love is to know that he is for us. He is out for our good and works things out for our good as he did for Israel regarding Bilaam.

Now, of course, the circumstances of life are not always good. Babies die of the croup and people are killed or severely injured in car accidents. It can be a challenge to hold on to the assurance of God's love in the midst of real tragedy. But if you are like me, before we can ever look beyond hardships and trust in God's love when life is truly hard, we need to first come to the place where we stop thinking of all the things that might have happened and start accepting how much God really loves us through all the good he regularly does on our behalf.

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