How can you tell if somebody loves you? We all understand that words alone are hollow and that it is actions that count. Even so it is not always easy to understand the actions of others. Misreading of one's intentions in this sensitive area ca n have disastrous consequences. Imputing noble motives when none exist is no less dangerous than falsely accusing someone of nefarious intentions. While the latter is liable to lead to tensions the former ca n lead to death. Testing someone's love, trying to snare someone seems a little immature and ca n be dangerous. What if your beloved fails the test? Yet it appears that this is what the Torah tells us that G-d may do to the Jewish people.
"When a prophet or a person who has visions in a dream arises among you. He may present you with a sign or a miracle.do not listen to the words of than prophet or dreamer. G-d your Lord is testing you to see if you truly love your Lord" (13:2-4). Apparently G-d is going to allow a prophet to correctly perform wonders to see whether or not you will then listen as he tries to lead you astray. Will you be wowed by his truly amazing feats or will you have the strength to look deeper into his true character? And why is G-d putting you in such a situation. What kind of love is this?
A test of G-d is like no other. It is not meant to determine if we will pass or fail, G-d needs no test for that. Rather a test is to challenge us, to enable us to use resources we were not sure that we had. G-d did not test Abraham to see whether he was willing to sacrifice his son, rather G-d enabled Abraham to reach the level of love of G-d that he was willing - not yet understanding that that this is in reality abhorrent to G-d - to sacrifice everything for the love of G-d. It is no coincidence that it is Abraham who is ca lled "My beloved". The first aspect of love is that challenging us, giving us opportunities to fall be ca use then we ca n rise that much higher.
In truth while we can not fathom the ways of G-d, the many tests that we all face - some tragically involving great pain and suffering - can and must serve to strengthen us. We are bidden to ask not lamah, why, but lemah for what purpose. Strange as it may seem to modern man - who equates love with pleasure - Judaism sees no contradiction between pain and love (just ask a mother in labor). Thus Judaism has taught the complex concept of Yishurin shel ahava afflictions send to man that actually express His love towards us.
There is in my mind an even more fundamental lesson here. G-d does not want us to observe the mitzvoth be ca use they are "in" or 'cool' or we are 'blown away' by them. Miracles can never have a long term effect on people's behaviour, their impact wearing off after a few short days. We need look no further than the generation of the desert - who despite witnessing the greatest miracles of all time were a stiff necked complaining lot. We observe mitzvoth because they are G-d's command not because we are influenced by some charismatic leader. It is for this reason that the one trait that Moshe Rabbeinu surely lacked was charisma. His total lack of oratorical skills would, in modern times, have doomed him to political oblivion. Moshe was the greatest of prophets - as the role of a prophet is not to be a great speaker but rather a great spokesperson, relaying G-d's message to His people and beyond.
With the destruction of the first Temple the period of prophecy came to an end. While on the surface this is a much lamented development it can be viewed much more positively. During our early years we needed G-d's constant guidance - expressed through miraculous events and righteous prophets. Without these constant reminders of the Divine presence, the nascent nation born from slavery would have been stillborn. However as we developed and "matured" as a people, especially with the development of the oral law, the centre of authority shifted to our rabbinic leaders. Torah is not to be found in heaven - it is us humans who must interpret the Divine will. While there is greater uncertainty there is also greater struggle and greater involvement with Torah. Just as a parent must wean a child from total dependency so too our Father want us to take responsibility for the development and implementation of Torah. We must see the divine manifestation in history even, especially, when they are not obvious. G-d truly loves us and thus insists that we not be swayed by charismatic false prophets but rather by the serious words of Torah. Shabbat Shalom!