Devarim – Will You Still Love me… Tomorrow
In 1960 the song Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, co-written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, was recorded by the Shirelles. This song became the #1 hit in the United States, which was a first for a black, all girls singing group. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow was subsequently recorded by many other artists over the years.
At its core the poem reflects the uncertainty of passion and love. Will it endure for the long term, will it remain steadfast tomorrow and beyond? Or will something, or somebody, else capture the lover’s attention, and the beloved will be discarded like yesterday’s newspaper? “Will you still love me tomorrow?”
Later on in Deuteronomy (24:5) theTorah teaches the Mitzvah of a newlywed couple spending the first year of their marriage with one another, and the groom must “gladden his wife” throughout that first year of their deepening relationship. This law exempts the groom from the draft – the military must give him a deferment during this year – although he is permitted to travel on business with his wife’s consent (many authorities believe this is only permitted when she agrees to his travel). One of the purposes of this law is to enable the newly married couple to demonstrate their devotion to one another, to assure the other that this is forever, to build the trust necessary for the foundations of a solid and enduring relationship. She should never feel the need to ask, “Will you still love me tomorrow.”
Contemporary halachic scholars suggest that in our time, when commitments have eroded in society, and our confidence and trust in the endurance of love has diminished, this “first year” extends for several years, giving enough time to compensate for the weaknesses of our society in this regard. Not just one year. We are still there for each other tomorrow.
The book of Deuteronomy opens with a review of significant events from the nation’s sojourn in the wilderness, told by Moses as a final reflection before his life ended. This book is aptly named in our tradition “Review of the Torah,” due to its review, in the first eleven chapters, of these events. Moses did not complete the journey with the people he spent 40 years leading. His fate was sealed along with the fate of the generation of the Exodus, to live out his life in the wilderness. In the very first chapter of the book Moses brings up the episode of the spies, recalling how the people all clamored for a scouting mission before they progressed to the land. “Let them bring word to us regarding the road that we will travel, and the cities we will come upon.” (Deuteronomy 1:22)
Moses reminds the people of their unwillingness to continue their journey to the land, instead complaining in their tents of the Lord’s animus toward them, leading them into the jaws of death at the hands of the powerful inhabitants of the land. Moses had tried to reassure them of God’s love and omnipotence, reminding them of the miraculous guidance they had enjoyed with the clouds of glory and the pillar of fire. But God’s assistance yesterday did not guarantee His love for the people tomorrow. The people’s despair reflected their inability to trust, and the consequences were that the generation displaying this weakness, all those who had reached maturity before the Exodus, would not enter the land. Instead their children, who had not the maturity to be accountable for such despair, would enter the land. They would grow to trust that God’s love for them would continue tomorrow.
Now, at the end of 40 years, things were different. Now the people were about to enter the land under Joshua’s leadership. The people believed what we now know, having read the epilogue in the book of Joshua and the subsequent prophets. They would proceed across the Jordan. They no longer questioned as the previous generation had. What changed? What did 40 years of wandering do for them? How did they gain confidence in… tomorrow?
One obvious change is that the people living at that time either did not experience the slavery and oppression of Egypt, or they were child survivors, not impacted as severely by their past. The spirits of their parents and grandparents had been broken, they were psychologically impaired, unable to trust their future. The second generation, the children of the survivors, could contend with the new independence awaiting them across the Jordan. They had learned to trust, they had faith that the Lord would not let them down. They had faith in God’s faithfulness.
Every morning we recite the short modeh ani phrase immediately upon waking. “I give thanks before You, living and eternal King, that you have compassionately restored my soul within me, abundant is your faithfulness.”
We express in the last phrase that God is faithful, that God is reliable, that His commitment is not short term. This is what the generation leaving Egypt failed to internalize. Just because someone helped you once doesn’t mean they will help again. And again. And again. They didn’t have the confidence and self-esteem to judge themselves worthy of God’s aid, and they didn’t understand that God had chosen them permanently, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. They constantly asked of God, ‘Will You still love me tomorrow.’
In a few weeks we will read Parshat Eikev, where Moses recounts the more of the miraculous events of the wilderness. He tells of the food that sustained Israel through the years, the heavenly manna that formed on the earth daily. Moses expresses this in a curious fashion. “And He afflicted you and caused you to hunger, and He fed you with manna, which you knew not and your fathers knew not, to inform you that not by bread alone does man live, but from what comes forth from the mouth of the Lord man lives.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)
An obvious problem with this verse is that Moses describes the manna as a form of torture. We would never have associated the manna with suffering and affliction. It was a great gift, allowing our ancestors to live with no worry of sustenance for decades in the wilderness. How can this be seen as an affliction?
Rabbi Berel Wein explains that we must imagine ourselves living under such circumstances. Who keeps their pantry and freezer empty these days? We all have plenty of stocked non-perishables, and we replenish this well in advance of it running out. We would never visit the supermarket daily and purchase what we need just for the day. We stockpile. We are always nervous that the supermarket won’t have products in stock, or that we won’t have the necessary credit later on or, worst of all, the product may no longer be on sale! If we relied on the postman to deliver our meals daily we would be constantly worrying. It would take a long time to get used to this lifestyle, and it would take perfect consistency for the postman to demonstrate his reliability, because we would go hungry if he missed a day.
What this generation had learned over the many years was that God was dependable. Learning this lesson was a painful exercise. They had to relinquish control. They had to allow their faith to assure them that tomorrow the manna would be delivered, that they would not go hungry. And the Lord never missed a beat. Morning after morning, week in week out, year after year, the manna was there for them. They learned to trust. God demonstrated His unquestionable commitment, and this generation no longer felt compelled to constantly ask, ‘Will You still love me tomorrow.’