I didn’t grow up hearing about Hashem loving me. My education focused on all the punishments in the Torah. As an adult, I’ve learned of this concept but I have two questions – what Torah sources say that God loves us? And if He loves us, why is He always killing people in the Torah?
Thanks for your question, though it made me a little sad. What you ask about is in the text. In fact, it’s all over the place but somehow it’s managed to elude you this whole time. That makes me sad because it demonstrates a huge failing on the part of our educational institutions.
Following is a partial list of places where the Torah (and the rest of Tanach) tells us that God loves us.
For starters, the Torah tells us that God loved the Patriarchs and selected us because of them:
Deuteronomy 4:37 – “Because He loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them….”
Deuteronomy 10:15 – “Hashem delighted in your ancestors and loved them, and He chose you, their descendants, above all the nations….”
If that’s not sufficient, He does specify that He loves us, not just our ancestors:
Deuteronomy 7:8 – “Because Hashem loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors…”
Moshe also comments – without contradiction – on God’s love for us:
Deuteronomy 33:3 – “Surely He loves the people; all the holy ones are in Your hand….”
Because of God’s love for the Jews, He gave them King Solomon as a wise and righteous king. This is acknowledged by the Queen of Sheba:
I Kings 10:9 – “…because of Hashem’s eternal love for Israel, He made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.”
And by Hiram, King of Tyre:
II Chronicles 2:10 – “…because Hashem loves His people, He has made you their king.”
The prophets also speak of God’s love. Some representative samples:
Isaiah 43:4 – “Since you are precious in My sight, and honorable, and I have loved you….”
Isaiah 63:9 – “…in His love and compassion He redeemed them.”
Jeremiah 31:2 – “I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have drawn you with kindness.”
The prophet Hoshea speaks of God’s love for us in the past:
Hoshea 11:1 – “When Israel was a child, I loved him then….”
And in the future:
Hoshea 14: 5 – “I will heal them of their backsliding; I will love them freely….”
There are more.
For the record, other things that God loves include converts (Deuteronomy 10:18), righteousness and justice (Psalms 33:5; 37:28), and the gates that lead to the Temple (Psalms 87:2). He is especially fond of righteous people, a fact that is made known in Psalms 146:8 and Proverbs 15:9. And, of course, God commands us to love Him, a fact that is reiterated day and night as part of the recitation of Shema (Deuteronomy 6:5). This is a necessary part of a reciprocal relationship. As Proverbs 8:17 says, “I love those who love Me.”
As far as the second part of your question, I’m surprised that you’re asking about God killing people in Biblical times. People normally question the Holocaust, or why their own relatives died. But it really doesn’t matter because the concept is the same. People are mortal. Sooner or later, they die. When they do, it’s a loss to us because we no longer get to see those people. This is not the case to God, Who exists outside of life, death, time and space.
Imagine you’re in elementary school and your best friend moves across the country. You miss them and it hurts. But does your friend’s brother miss them? No, because your friend’s brother is still with them. Similarly, when someone dies, they’re no longer with us but they’re still with God. Human death doesn’t have the same implications to Him that it does to us.
I think a good metaphor for death would be taking an exam. When time is called, you turn in your paper and leave the room, then the instructor grades your paper. If you’re caught cheating, the instructor tells you that your time is up prematurely and you have to hand in your paper right then and there. The people in the Torah who worshipped the golden calf, who complained about the manna, who rebelled with Korach, etc. – they were all caught “cheating” and had to hand their papers in early. But everyone has to turn in their paper eventually. Having to do so doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us.
People question God’s love by pointing to things they don’t like or don’t understand, like death. We’re actually told that the punishments we suffer in life are a sign of God’s love! (“Hashem rebukes one whom He loves like a father does a son in whom he delights” – Proverbs 3:12.) But there’s so much more that He gives us for free, specifically because He loves us! In his memoir I Still Want to Be an Astronaut, comedian James Perry opines that life isn’t fair, but it is kind, which is actually better for us. “If life were fair,” he observes, “you would have to earn goodness before you could experience it.”
God definitely loves us. This point is made clear throughout Tanach. The fact that people die – either now or in Bible times – is no contradiction to that love. Conversely, the fact that God gives us so much that we have done absolutely nothing to deserve – including life itself and the opportunity to earn reward that life brings – is a clear manifestation of that love.
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
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