His left arm is under my head,
and his right arm embraces me. — Song of Solomon 2:6
Someone once asked me a very sad question. He said: “Rabbi, how do I know that God still loves me?” My initial reaction was to think, “Are you crazy? Can you really think that a Father does not love his children?” But sensitive to where this man was coming from – I knew that he had made a lot of mistakes – I took a softer approach. I pointed him to Jeremiah 31:3 where God states: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”
However, the truth is that like any real relationship, our relationship with God is a bit more complex. Yes, He always loves us; yet like every relationship, there are ups and downs. King Solomon put it best this way, “His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.”
On the surface it looks simple. God holds us in a loving embrace. However, the Jewish sages saw more here. They explain the verse in the following manner: “With his left hand He pushes me away while with His right hand he embraces me.”
What does this mean?
Like any good parent, God sometimes has to mete out consequences for wrongful behavior. Sometimes God has to distance Himself from us because we are not deserving of His closeness. Sometimes, we have to go through difficult times that help us correct behavior. Yet paradoxically, even as God pushes us away, He is still embracing us.
When the Romans came into the Holy of Holies of the Temple, after destroying it and exiling the Jews, they were surprised at what they saw. Surely the destruction that had taken place was a sign that God was angry with the Jews. Their own prophets had said so. Yet, what they saw was the two cherubim that sat on top of the Ark embracing like a husband and wife.
Jewish tradition teaches that when God was happy with His people, the cherubs faced toward each other. When God was unhappy with His children, the cherubs turned away from each other. So at this time of severe punishment, we would expect the cherubs to be turned away from each other, not in a loving embrace!
However, God wanted to send a message to His people and all of us – that even as He pushes us away sometimes, He still loves us and holds us. In fact, some commentaries explain the meaning of“His left arm is under my head” to mean that God provides support for us even as He tests us.
Friends, let’s never forget that God loves us no matter what. As we strive to be the best that we can be, and even when we fail at times, we are always in God’s loving embrace.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President