As I mentioned in a previous post, during the month of Elul, I’ll be offering occasional “Elul Meditations” that I hope will help with your spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. This one is an excerpt from a Rosh Hashanah sermon I gave ten years ago entitled “The Season of Our Loving.”
If we don’t relate to a personal, supernatural God on High, what could it possibly mean to pray prayers that say “God loves us?” Maybe – just maybe – it means that our love for one another is but a hint of something much greater: an infinite place of unconditional love that pervades the universe. Perhaps the simplest way we experience God’s love is when we look into the eyes of our own loved ones. I am reminded of Jacob’s unbearably touching words, the words that come when he finally reconciles with his beloved brother Esau: “to see your face is to see the face of God.” Could it be possible that when we love another, we are tapping into a well that connects us with a transcendent love greater than anything we can possibly imagine?
Ahavat Olam – “with an unending love you love us, Adonai, our God.” I understand this prayer as much more than simply a tribal statement of faith about God’s exclusive gift of Torah to the people Israel. At its most profound level, this prayer expresses our sense that there is a source of unconditional love that surrounds all peoples always – an “Ahavat Olam.” It is reflected in our love for one another, but it is not ultimately dependant upon it. For if love is only a transient feeling or sensation, then it is not truly eternal. Perhaps when we say “God loves us,” we are simply saying that this life force – this love force – is an elemental part of our lives and our world. Like the love we share with true loved ones, it has a transformative power. It connects us in a profound way. It protects and validates us. It helps us to overcome our solitariness. It keeps us safe.