My Rosh Yeshiva, ztzl, used to reminisce about his days as a child on the Lower East Side. Often, he would come back from school and his father would ask him, ‘Noach – did you remember that Hashem loves you today?’ ‘Yes’, was the young boy’s usual answer. ‘Well done, his father would respond. You did a very big mitzvah. And an easy one at that!!’
Remembering God loves us is indeed a very easy mitzvah, as mitzvahs go. However, we seem to live in a generation today that has all but forgotten how to do it. It’s just not as easy as it used to be to remember that Hashem loves us. For some reason we more readily remember that Hashem judges us. Or that Hashem punishes us. That he gets upset and angry with us. Who, nowadays, remembers that he loves us?
The Mishna in Avos (3:17) says that human beings are beloved to God – because they are created in his image. More so, Jews are beloved to God because they are called children. And even more so because he gave us a desirable tool, with which the Universe was created. Not one of those reasons is contingent on our choices. We are beloved simply because we are created in God’s image. We are, every last one of us, souls, spiritual beings at our very core. And that is enough for God to love us – no matter what choices we make, how misguided we might become, how lost we might find ourselves. We remain pure souls.
This is obvious to anyone who has children. We love our children unconditionally. Our children can slap us in the face, turn against us, behave horribly – and we will still love them. They cannot undermine our love no matter what they do. So too, as Torah says, God is our Father in Heaven. And if the Infinite Being is a father, he must be the most perfect paradigm of a father. If a human father loves unconditionally, Hashem can do nothing less. He loves us no matter what.
What greater tribute is there to each and every one of us than the fact that God loves us? What greater testimony to our own greatness, to our own potential, no matter where we might find ourselves at any given moment in life?
And if God loves us no matter what, should we not feel the same way about ourselves?
But what about aveiros?
Yes, what about them????
Koheles (7:20) tells us that there is no tzadik in the world who has never transgressed. In fact, a tzadik (yes a tzadik) actually falls seven times and gets up (Mishlei 24:16). The sole difference between a tzadik and a regular person is that the tzadik gets up when he falls. Both fall, both transgress, both make mistakes. But the tzadik gets up. It’s not that the regular person makes bigger mistakes. Shlomo Hamelech does not say that. He makes only one distinction. The tzadik gets up. The tzadik remembers that Hashem loves him. The tzadik realizes that his avairos do not define him. They are choices that he has made – and new choices are available at any and every moment. And even if he continually makes wrong choices, he is still deeply beloved to Hashem as a soul created in His image.
Because a soul is a spiritual truth. It cannot be damaged or destroyed. It remains pure no matter what. It’s not that the soul has potential to be pure even when the person makes wrong choices. The soul remains pure. At essence we are good no matter what we do.
Yes, the Mishna (Sanhedrin 10:2) gives a list of 3 kings and 4 regular men who lost their portion in the world to come. But look at what they did. Yeravam imposed Avoda Zara on almost the entire Jewish Nation. Doeg murdered 50,000 Cohanim. It takes way more than a lot of avairos to lose our olam haba. Because we are, every last one of us, innocent and beautiful souls at heart. Even when we get lost in the craziness of the illusory world that surrounds us and compels us. A phrase that always appeals to me is that ‘we are not human beings trying to have spiritual experiences, rather we are spiritual beings struggling with human experiences’.
The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 5:2) reminds us that ‘every human being has the potential to be as great a tzadik as Moshe Rabbeinu’. We have it within ourselves if only we could remember. We may not achieve it (and then again, we may) but just the fact that we have it within us means we are great already. Because every single one of us wants to be a tzadik, wants to be great, wants to contribute and give, wants to do God’s will. That’s our nature, plain and simple. Now yes, people may have given up on achieving that, they may feel hopeless and lost, unable to ever get there. But that’s OK. What they don’t realize is their lostness and frustration and disappointment is the clearest sign of their Godliness and holiness.
Because only someone who is eager and desperate to do God’s will, will feel disappointed when they fail. Only someone committed and determined will feel upset when they do not live up to their own very high standards.
This is what makes us good even when we are not. This is why we have a guaranteed portion in the world to come. This is why God loves us and this is why we should love ourselves also. Because we are all ‘tzmayim laasos ruzon konam’. Each and every one of us. We may fail. We may fail miserably. We may give up. But the thirst remains. And this is and will always remain our greatness. We want to be good, no matter what. That’s what drives us at our core. That’s why you are reading this article right now. And that’s why I am writing it. ☺
Roosevelt said, at the time of the Great Depression that ‘there is nothing to fear, but fear itself.’ Similarly, in avodas Hashem, there is no failure but giving up. And there is no giving up for the person who knows that God loves him. So do a mitzvah today. A big mitzvah but an easy one. Remember God loves you, remember your own greatness – not just in potential but in actuality. And even if you continue to make mistakes, that’s just part of you being the tzadik that you are.