Reish Lakish says (Bereishis Rabba 80:7) that Hashem expressed his love of the Jews using three expressions: בדביקה, בחשיקה, ובחפיצה. (Loosely translated, דביקה means that we cling to Him, חשיקה means that He longs for us and חפיצה means that He desires us). But these expressions are originally found in the story of Shechem and Dina.
ר”ל אמר, בג’ לשונות של חבה חבב הקב”ה את ישראל. בדביקה, בחשיקה, ובחפיצה. בדביקה – ואתם הדבקים. בחשיקה – לא מרובכם מכל העמים חשק ה’. ובחפיצה – ואשרו אתכם כל הגוים כי תהיו אתם ארץ חפץ. ואנו למדים אותה מפרשה של רשע הזה. בדביקה – ותדבק נפשו. בחשיקה – שכם בני חשקה נפשו בבתכם. בחפיצה – כי חפץ בבת יעקב
Asks the Nesivos Shalom, why does the Torah learn about the awesome love that Hashem has for his chosen nation from the deplorable feelings that Shechem had for Dina? The Torah actually calls Shechem’s actions scandalous (נְבָלָ֞ה עָשָׂ֣ה בְיִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל). Can’t we find a more refined place to use as the headquarters of love, rather than the abduction of an innocent young woman?
The Slonimer Rebbe answers by explaining how Shechem’s soul was a very high soul, but I’d like to give my own answer.
Rebbe Nachman tells a story of a certain tzaddik who was overcome with a terrible sense of sadness. Eventually this tzaddik fell so deep into sadness that he found it literally impossible even to move . He wanted to encourage himself and pull himself up, but nothing could make him happy or inspired. No matter what he tried to be happy about, the Evil One found some reason to make him depressed about it. Finally, after trying everything, he tried to make himself happy by dwelling on the fact that Hashem created him as a Jew. This is certainly a reason to feel immeasurable joy, because the vast difference between the holiness of even the simplest Jew and the impurity of the gentiles is beyond all measure. The sad tzaddik started making himself feel happy about this. He started rejoicing and raising himself little by little. With each passing moment he felt greater joy until he reached such a level of joy that he attained the joy Moses experienced when he ascended to receive the Torah.
The Rebbe’s story is so profound because any happiness from a personal achievement can always be scrutinized and criticized. No matter what the achievement is, there are always shortcomings and deficiencies which can bring sadness. But to be created as a Jew is a gift of Hashem alone. Hashem Himself did it, it’s exclusively the work of God, so there is no lacking in that joy. Regardless of what kind of Jew the person may be, there is certainly an immeasurable difference between himself and the gentiles. So there is always a reason to be happy.
Most people either love themselves or hate themselves based on their personal achievements. Successful people are often egotistical because they imagine that they deserve to be loved for their accomplishments. On the other hand, so much sadness and self-loathing today is a product of people believing that due to their failures, they are underserving of love.
By introducing the expressions of love with the despicable relationship of Shechem and Dina, Hashem is showing us what true love is. He doesn’t love us because we are religious or because we are good Jews. He loves all Jews the same because we are His people. Period. Our spiritual accomplishments are certainly beneficial because they allow us to experience our relationship with Him, but even those with no spiritual accomplishments whatsoever have that same loving relationship. If the Torah introduced us to Hashem’s love with the example of our forefather Issac and Rebecca, then we might mistakenly think that Hashem only loves us when we have the character traits of Rebbeca, who entered her home and instantly performed miracles. So instead the Torah initiates the idea with a seemingly disgraceful type of love, to show that the love can’t be broken by our poor actions.
This point is driven home, as the Slonimer Rebbe also points out, from the fact that every time that the Torah uses an expression of love in the Shechem story, it follows with the words בת יעקב. He loves the daughter of Jacob. Meaning, Hashem loves us because we are His children, not because of any other reason.
I think this lesson is so important to internalize. We need to stop hating ourselves because of our shortcomings and we need to stop idolizing people because of their accomplishments. None of that matters. Everyone of us is lovable. Every one of us!