The love between God and His people is often compared to the marital relationship.
So the prophet Hoshea describes God, declaring: “And I will betroth you to Me forever” (Hoshea 2:21). The Song of Songs is similarly viewed as an allegory for the relationship between God and Am Yisrael (the Jewish people).
Indeed, throughout the year this imagery prevails. For example, every Friday evening we recite the Lekha Dodi ‑ Come my Beloved (referring to God), let us greet the Sabbath bride.
And the holidays of the Jewish year evoke the picture of God’s love for us. On Passover we recall walking through the sea with the help of God, much like bride and groom walking to the chuppa (wedding canopy). On Shavuot ( the festival commemorating receiving the torah), we reenact our hearing the Aseret Ha’Dibrot (Ten Declarations) which can be viewed as the ketubah, the marital contract, between God and His people. On Sukkot (the feast of booths) we eat and some try to live in a sukkah, beneath the skhakh (Sukkah roof), which can be seen as a kind of bridal canopy.
But, of course, this comparison has its limits. This week’s parsha records the right of husband and wife to divorce. And if following the divorce the wife marries another, she may never remarry her first husband (Deuteronomy 24:1‑4). Taking the analogy to its fullest, does this mean that we, the Jewish people, can permanently separate from God? Doesn’t it mean that if we separate from God, and, if you will, “wed” to another albeit false god, that we can never return to God Himself.
It is here during the days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that a new picture of love between God and His people emerges. It is the idea that we are God’s children and God is a parent figure. Thus, we recite Avinu Malkeinu – referring to God as our Father. So, too, do we speak of God as Hashem Hashem Keil rahum (the Lord is a God of mercy). The word rahum comes from the word rehem which means womb, conveying the idea of a mother’s infinite and endless love for her young.
The difference is obvious. A husband and wife relationship can be terminated. But no matter what happens in life a parent always remains a parent. Similarly, God’s love for us is limitless. Even if we separate from Him, even if we “marry another,” we can always return‑ and God will always embrace us.
One last thought. Even the parental relationship has its limits since no one lives forever. God is however, the Eternal Parent. Hence during these days we recite Psalm twenty-seven, in which we proclaim, “Even if my father and mother have left me, God will gather me in” (Psalms 27:10).
Our relationship to God parallels the deep love between husband and wife. It intersects with a parent’s love for a child. In fact, it transcends all. It is as deep and deeper than a spousal encounter, and it is beyond the endlessness of a parent’s love for a child—it is eternal.