The haftara for Parashat Eikev, which is taken from Sefer Yeshayahu (49:14-51:3), begins with a depiction of Jerusalem crying, “The Lord has forsaken me!” – referring to Am Yisrael’s perception that the destruction and exile marked God’s permanent rejection of them. God responds to this cry by rhetorically asking if a mother would ever forsake her newborn infant, and then says, “Even if these shall be forsaken – I shall never forsake you!” The prophet assures the nation that even if we could imagine a mother cruelly abandoning her young child, we should be unable to imagine God forsaking His beloved nation. In other words, there is even less of a possibility of God abandoning Am Yisrael than there is of a mother abandoning her newborn baby.
The Gemara, in Masekhet Berakhot (32b), offers a different interpretation of this verse, whereby it depicts an exchange between God and Am Yisrael. In response to the people’s fears that they are permanently forsaken, God assured them that He would never forget their devoted service to Him in the desert. They then expressed their fears that if this is the case, that God never forgets their devotion in the desert, then this means He would also never forget the sins they committed in the desert – specifically, the sin of the golden calf. God responded, “Gam eileh tishkachna” – that He would, in fact, forget about that tragic mistake. Am Yisrael then feared that if God forgets the golden calf, He might also forget Ma’amad Har Sinai, the Revelation at Sinai, when they proclaimed their unbridled commitment to Him. God replied by guaranteeing to always remember that great moment of devotion. And thus this verse should be read as, “Although I will forget these” – the sin of the golden calf – “I will never forget you” – Benei Yisrael’s moment of greatness, when they proclaimed their commitment to God and His Torah. This reading of the verse appears also in Targum Yonatan’s translation.
Very often, people in a relationship – whether it’s within a family, a friendship, or any other bond between two people – focus more attention on each other’s mistakes than they do on what the other does right. The “golden calf” – the indiscretions and moments of neglect or betrayal – tend to take center stage in the other’s mind, while the expressions of devotion and fealty are overlooked. We frequently take for granted the other’s meeting our expectations, and feel embittered and resentful over the handful of occasions when we were disappointed. The exchange between God and Am Yisrael depicted by the Gemara perhaps teaches us to view our relationships from the precise opposite perspective – to forget the disappointments, and always remember, appreciate and respect everything else. Just as God remembers our moments of devotion and is prepared to forgive our moments of failure, so must we focus our attention on what the people around us do right, and be quick to forgive that which they do wrong.