It seems that when we feel comfortable around certain people, we tend to let down boundaries and test the limits of those relationships. While I know my spouse, Duncan, loves me, I also know I can rail, scream, cry, and otherwise vent to him after a tough day. He can take it because he loves me, I love him, and together we provide a mutual safe space to have this flood of emotion. My children are the same way. They usually keep themselves pulled together when we’re out in public, and then they have a release of emotion and let it all out when we’re home. And boy do they test the boundaries! But at least I know I’m not alone; this type of boundary testing has been going on as long as there have been deep, trusting relationships, including in the Torah.
This week we read Parshat Eikev. We learn of the blessing and reward you receive if you keep the laws of the Torah and of the consequences for those who don’t follow those laws. The Torah recaps the lessons learned from the Golden Calf, the breaking of the first set of tablets, and Moshe’s prayer for the people. We finally receive the second section of the Shema, followed by a clear warning to guard the Torah and its commandments.
As the relationship between God and the Israelite nation deepens, there are moments when the people lash out and moments when God lashes out. Now, at the end of the journey, God tests the Israelites one last time before they go into the land of Israel and become forever bound by the covenant.
Chapter 8, verse 2 reads, “Remember the long way that the Lord your God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years, that He might test you by hardships to learn what was in your hearts: whether you would keep His commandments or not.” What is God testing in the Israelites? They left everything they knew to follow these laws, so what’s left to test? Was it a test of their faith to see if, after everything, they still had faith? Was it a test of their gratitude to God, even if they knew they were going to survive and flourish?
Perhaps it’s the same kind of test we use in our closest relationships. We’re not trying to push the other person away, but the result is that we test and push the boundaries of that relationship. In a strange way, it’s how we reaffirm our love and commitment. In this moment, God is seeking that reaffirmation. Having these limits or boundaries with God and with each other doesn’t mean that there’s less love or that the love is restrained. In fact, it’s the opposite. Knowing when you can and can’t cross those lines (and when you can stretch them) is the ultimate kind of trust. And that’s true love.