Prophets including Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and especially Hosea, metaphorically represent the relationship between God and Israel as that between husband and wife bound by a covenant of marriage. Israel, the “wife”, stands accused of unfaithfulness to her marriage covenant; idolatry is harlotry. The concept of the “jealous” God (Ex 20:5; Dt 5:9 etc.) fits this image, as does the commitment “you will be my people and I will be your God” (Lev 26:12; Dt 29:12, cf. Hos. 2:4), a legal formula taken from the sphere of marriage, as attested in various legal documents from the Ancient Near East.
Erotic Love of God
Although the first three chapters of Hosea are deeply problematic in how they view women, when viewed in their cultural and historical context, their central theme is a reminder that love of God, in its most visceral sense, is a central component of biblical religion, an element that would remain important to Judaism as it developed over time. But what is the nature of this love? Western thought typically distinguishes between several types of love, most especially between eros—erotic love, and agape—platonic love. (Both “eros” and “agape” are loan words from Greek.)
Given Hosea’s sexually charged depiction of the relationship between God and Israel, it is evident that here the Tanakh and later Judaism differ from the Christianity reflected in the New Testament, in that they can view the love of God as erotic.
As has been demonstrated by scholars such as Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, erotic love, oreros, is basic to a Jewish understanding of divine love, while platonic love, or agape, which plays such an important role in Christian theology as the higher form of love, is less central to the Jewish understanding. It is Hosea’s use of erotic love that has made these chapters so powerful and enduring throughout the ages since this type of love speaks to the most basic and visceral experience of the human condition
The ark was the repository for the tablets of
stone, which contained the Ten Commandments.
A golden cover (Kaporet or Parokhet) was placed over
and above the ark, from which two cherubs were
hammered out on either side. Rashi cites the Midrash:
“They had the form of the face of a young child.” (B.T.
The cherubs were formed to be looking at
each other, and the Almighty communicated with
Moses from between the two cherubs. (Ex. 25:10-30)
The Sages described the special qualities of
these cherubs, and the way in which our Gentile
captors viewed these images: Rav Katina said, “When
the Israelites would ascend to Jerusalem during the
three Pilgrim Festivals, the (Temple custodians) would
show them the cherubs, who were embracing each
other. They would say to the pilgrims, See how your
love before the Almighty should be as the love of a man
for a woman’” Said Resh Lakish, “when the destruction
(of the Temple) came about, the Gentiles entered (the
sacred shrine) and said: ‘These Jews, whose blessing
is a blessing and whose curse is a curse, are involved
in such a sculpture?’
They derided the Israelites, citing the verse, ‘All who (formerly) respected her, came to mock her because they saw her nakedness’.
And what was her nakedness? The cherubs, embracing each other!” (B.T. Yoma 54a)
Why did our Holy Temple feature sculptures
like the cherubs-in-embrace, which allowed the
Romans to revile Israel as worshipping their God
We have seen that the menorah is a golden
tree, symbolically reminiscent of the Tree of Life in the
Garden of Eden. The first couple was banished from
the primordial Garden of Perfection, and humanity
prevented from eating of the tree of eternal life,
because Adam and Eve sinned by partaking of the fruit
of knowledge of good and evil. Our major commentator,
Rashi suggests that the forbidden fruit injected within
the human personality what Sigmund Freud would call
the libido, substituting lust for love, illicit passion for
sexual purity. That is the original sin.
The ultimate goal of Torah – also referred to as a ”tree of life” in the Biblical Book of Proverbs as well as in our liturgy – is to re-fashion our imperfect world into the Garden of Eden, to enable a perfected humanity to finally eat the fruit of the tree of eternal life.
According to Rashi’s interpretation,
this ultimate feat can only be achieved when sexual
purity will be restored, when familial love rather than
extra marital lust will be normative human behavior.
Then we will have righted the wrong, done penance for
the sin, which caused our existential exile in the first
The Roman conquerors missed the point of the
cherub symbolism. Our Sages insist that “they had the
form of the face of a young child”, symbolizing purity,
innocence, and whole-heartedness. The physical
embrace of such male-female winged beings -with the
pure faces of children – express love without lust,
sexual unity which enhances family rather than sexual
depravity which destroys the family.
Undoubtedly, the family – that which has such
powerful potential for creative supportiveness and
spiritual continuity – can tragically degenerate into
crippling destructiveness and pathological dysfunction.
The great Hassidic sage
Rav Aharon Karliner said that it is difficult to see the
compassion with which God created the world – unless
you take into account the fact that Adam and Eve were
born without parents. Nevertheless, our religious
tradition holds great store in the importance and
ultimate potential of family as the matrix from which a
perfected society will one day emerge – and therefore
our Sabbath, festival, life-cycle and family purity rituals
laws and customs, all aim to protect, strengthen and
deepen the most positive family ties and relationships.
Dysfunctional family – Adam and Eve blaming
each other for their own weaknesses – produces the
first murder (Cain and Abel);
The unified family, – when the hearts of the parents turn to the children, and the hearts of the children to the parents – will herald national and world redemption.
Family depraved banished humanity
from Eden; family redeemed will return us to Eden and
the tree of life.
The sacred objects of the desert Sanctuary
teach us that the most important vehicle for the
transmission of our tradition is the family. Only by
nurturing family purity and unity will we succeed in
protecting Torah and properly utilizing it to perfect all of
So Family is very important as little Moshie knows in this story:
A Blessing in Disguise
The Goldberg family was having Friday night dinner at their grandmother’s house – Bubbie Adella. Seated around the table little Moishe Goldberg dug into the food immediately.
“Moishe!” his mother exclaimed. “You have to wait until we make the blessing.”
“No I don’t,” the little boy replied.
“Of course you do,” his mother insisted, “we always say a blessing before eating at our house.”
“That’s at our house,” Moishe explained, “but this is Bubbie’s house and she knows how to cook.”