The first time the Jewish people are referred to as "G-d's children" is in the Torah portion of Shmos, where the verse states: "Israel is My son, My firstborn."
The term "firstborn," as Rashi explains,
In many other instances, however, we find that Jews are considered G-d's children because of their extreme youthfulness. Thus we find the verse, "For Israel is but a lad and [therefore] I love him." This is further explained by our Sages, who offer the parable of a king who had many children, but loved the youngest most of all.
Since the love for a young child is more palpable than the love for an older one, why does the verse in Shmos imply that Jews are older children?
What, exactly, causes a parent to manifest a greater degree of love for a young child than for an older one?
An older child, who has already matured intellectually and emotionally, will not always be loved by his parents merely because he is their child. The parents may also come to love the older child because of his wisdom or fine character. This kind of love is grounded in logic.
The love of a parent for a very young child, however, is an elemental love - one that transcends reason - since an extremely young child does not display any particular qualities for which he should be loved; the love that emanates from parents to young children derives entirely from the fact that the parents and the child are essentially one.
The love for a grown child, although also an essential love, is intermingled with feelings that have a basis in logic. This logical foundation conceals the elemental love between parent and child.
Just as this is so regarding the love of human parents, so too with regard to G-d's love for His children, the Jewish people. Here too, there exist two manners and degrees:
When Jews serve G-d and thus reveal their sterling qualities, His ever-present love for us is mingled with a love dictated by logic - similar to the love felt by parents for an older child.
However, G-d also shows His elemental love for the Jewish people - a love that springs from the fact that every Jew is "truly a part of G-d above." This love - similar to that felt by parents for a very small child - does not depend at all on the quality of the Jews' spiritual service.
This elemental love is revealed when Jews serve G-d in the manner of a small child; when they feel small and humble in G-d's presence, and obey Him as a small child obeys his parents - out of a sense of inherent loyalty, even when they fail to understand G-d's reasoning.
This, however, does not mean to imply that when Jews serve G-d intellectually and emotionally His intrinsic love for them is not revealed, for a Jew's intellectual and spiritual state is intricately connected to his degree of self-nullification.
A Jew realizes the necessity of intellectual toil to understand Torah, and that his emotions must be permeated with enjoyment of Torah and mitzvos. This realization is a direct result of the fact that such enjoyment is G-d's desire.
The reason the verse states "Israel is My son, My firstborn" will be understood accordingly:
When seeking to indicate G-d's essential love for the Jewish people in and of itself, the metaphor used is that of a very small child, for in that instance the elemental love is felt naturally.
When, however, one seeks to convey the essential qualities of the Jewish people, then the term "Israel is My son, My firstborn" is used, for it indicates that the Jews' essentially childlike nature permeates even their intellect and emotions.
Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XXI, pp. 20-26.
- (Back to text) Shmos 4:22.
- (Back to text) Ibid.
- (Back to text) Hosheah 11:1; See at length Or HaTorah, Beshallach p. 382ff; Ki Na'ar Yisrael, 5666, Sefer HaMa'amarim 5678 p. 159ff.
- (Back to text) Devarim Rabbah 5:7.
- (Back to text) Tanya, beginning of ch. 2.
- (Back to text) Cf. Tanya ch. 38 (p. 50b and onward).
The Torah portion Shmos begins by saying:
"And these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt...." Rashi comments:
"Although He counted them by name while they were alive, He counted them again after their passing in order to make known (and demonstrate) his love for them; for they are likened to the stars, which He takes out and brings in by their numbers and names....
If Rashi simply desired to prove that something loved is counted by number as well as by name, he would have simply stated that they are "like the stars which He takes out and brings in by number and name." Rashi's statement, "for they are likened to the stars," serves to imply that because the children of Israel possess the same quality as the stars, they are therefore counted in a like manner.
What is this "star" quality?
Although love of something is evinced through counting as well as through naming, counting and calling by name emphasize two different aspects of that which is being counted or called:
Counting emphasizes the commonalty of things - wholly disparate entities cannot be included in the same count. A name, on the other hand, emphasizes the individuality of each thing.
Rashi indicates this when he states "for they are likened to the stars," for stars possess both these aspects. On the one hand, they all share the fact of star-hood, and are counted precisely because each star is important. On the other hand, each star possesses unique qualities, for which reason each has it own name.
Each Jew, who is "likened to the stars," shares the essential quality of Jewishness, and is "truly part of G-d above." In addition, each possesses qualities unique to the individual.
G-d's love for the Jewish people thus finds expression in two ways: By counting them He manifests His love for their essential Jewishness, and by calling each by name He demonstrates His love for the unique qualities of each and every one.
However, when G-d desired to show love for individual Jews, He could have done so in any number of ways. Why did He specifically choose to count them by name?
G-d's intrinsic love for the Jewish people serves as the template for all parental love. With human parents also, we find that mentioning a child's name arouses a degree of love that cannot be elicited by other means, such as by giving the child a gift, showering him with words of love, or even hugging and kissing him.
Giving a child a gift or loving words depends on the child's age: If a parent gives his grown son or daughter a gift fit for a very young child, then rather than it being seen as an expression of love it may be taken in the opposite way. Words of love, too, must be geared to the individual child's level.
Since gifts and loving talk must be tailored to the age and comprehension of each child, it is clear that love manifested through these vehicles is limited. It thus cannot be an elemental love for the essence of the child, since elemental love is not limited by the child's intellect, maturity, etc.
Even hugs and kisses, which can be given to both younger and older children, are limited, for they can only be bestowed when the recipient is close at hand. Essential love is not limited by time or space.
The only evocation of love that is truly unlimited is the mentioning of a child's name: it matters not whether the child is young or old, near or far, bright or dim, etc.
Thus, when G-d desired to show His essential love for the Jewish people, He "counted them by name."
Compiled from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VI, pp. 1-10.
- (Back to text) Shmos 1:1.
- (Back to text) Ibid.
- (Back to text) Tanya ch. 2,
- (Back to text) See discourses titled Atta Echad 5702, 5729.