One of my favorite scenes in Fiddler on the Roof is when Tevye and Golde sing their duet “Do You Love Me?” It’s a moment of pure honesty when Tevye questions the state of their marriage after all these years. This kind of emotional check-in is natural; it’s a part of continuing to build a relationship and partnership together. Do you love me? Do you like me? Are you mad at me? These moments happen all the time, perhaps because we’re questioning our own emotions and therefore seek to validate them.
This week in our parshah, we enter into the final book of the Torah, Devarim (Deuteronomy). Devarim stresses the covenant between God and Israel and looks toward Israel’s future in a new land as they build a society that pursues justice and righteousness. The central theme of this section of text is monotheism – the belief in one God – and the summation of the laws we’ve been given over the course of the four previous books.
Chapter 1, verse 27 reveals the Israelites’ conversation with Moshe: “It is because the Lord hates us that He brought us out of the land of Egypt to hand us over to the Amorites.” Though their theory is incorrect, it’s understandable that the Israelites would express this concern. They’ve been moved out of the only land they’ve ever known. They’re scared, and so they blame their fear on God instead of reflecting rationally on the situation.
In fact, Rashi interprets this line as “If God really loved us, God would have given us the land of Egypt and sent the Egyptians into the wilderness.” Their fear blinds them to the possibility that, as difficult as the journey has been, it is because God loves them that they left Egypt. In other words, because I love you I’ve given you the chance to grow, change, and build a whole new nation.
“Do you love me?” is mostly a rhetorical question in the musical. We know they love each other. Sometimes we ask questions when we already know the answers, and as our parshah teaches, this validation is often all we need. Even Tevye and Golde acknowledge: “It doesn’t change a thing, but even so, after 25 years it’s nice to know.”