On the Ninth of Av on the Jewish calendar, we commemorate the destruction of our ancient temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed in the year 69 of the Common Era.

Jewish history is largely comprised of two segments, namely, pre and post Temple destruction. The first era is marked by miracles, prophecy and constant divine intervention; the second era is marked by exile, suffering and almost full Divine concealment.

The Diaspora has lasted nearly two thousand years, and throughout it all Jews have largely remained loyal to G‑d and Judaism. What is the secret of this relationship? How have we maintained our love for G‑d under such unfavorable conditions?

I believe the answer lies in the nature of our love.

The Mishnah (Ethics of the Fathers, 5:17) teaches that there are two forms of love: conditional love and unconditional love. I call them the ego-driven love and the soul-based love. Every relationship is capable of experiencing both forms of love; however one must come before the next. First we offer conditional love, and then, if our love is properly nurtured, we can progress to unconditional love.

All relationships begin with the ego-driven stage. On their first date, a man and a woman will naturally inspect each other with a critical eye. Each has a checklist of the qualities they desire in a potential mate. Each is prepared to invest in the relationship, but only if s/he can first determine that it will serve his or her needs. In short, they are prepared to give but only if they can receive in return. They are prepared to love but only if conditions are favorable.

I call this the ego-driven stage because ego nurtures self before others. Ego does permit nurturing of others, but only when it is self-enhancing. Ego does permit love of others, but only when it serves the needs of self.

At this preliminary stage the attributes of the loved one matter; they inspire the love. Should these attributes disappear, the love would naturally fade. In other words, at this stage the love is conditional.

Conditional love is possible in the first stage. True love becomes possible only in the second stage.

In describing this second stage, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi M. Schneerson, wrote, "it takes decades to develop true love between husband and wife. This is a love in which husband and wife feel as if they are a part of each other and cannot imagine being without each other."

At this stage, it is absurd to ask a husband why he loves his wife and vice versa; it's like asking the brain why it feels the arm's pain. The brain feels the arm because they belong to a single entity. Husband and wife feel the same way. Giving to the other is like giving to oneself.

At this stage the attributes of the loved one no longer matter. He or she may lose his/her beauty, wisdom or wit and would still be loved. Why? Because they have grown so close together that they cannot imagine life without loving each other. It would be simply inconceivable.

I call this the soul-based stage because only the soul can offer such unconditional love. The soul lives for others and derives pleasure from giving, sharing and caring. The soul does not require justification for loving. It does not love for a reason, at least not the kind of reason that appeals to logic. The soul loves simply because it does.

Rabbi Akiva and his wife Rachel enjoyed that sort of love. She encouraged him to travel to the yeshiva to study Torah. He acquiesced and studied for twelve years. Upon his return he overheard his wife telling a neighbor how proud she was of him and that if he would stay for twelve more years she would have loved him just the same; whereupon he promptly returned to the yeshiva for twelve more years.

How could she love him if he was absent? Because she was so closely bound to him that she could not stop loving him. She did not love him because he served her needs — she loved because she was in love with him.

Herein lies the difference between loving and being "in love." Her love prevailed over unfavorable conditions; it was unselfish — it was soul based.

Returning to our relationship with G‑d, I would argue that it has long matured into soul-based love.

Let us trace the relationship.

When we first met G‑d, we were an enslaved and persecuted people. G‑d saved us, smiting our oppressors with ten plagues. He led us out of Egypt and brought us to Mount Sinai, where he swept us off our feet in an unprecedented display of affection and awe. Bolts of lightening, cracks of thunder, deafening calls of a heavenly shofar accompanied our beloved G‑d as he appeared in a brilliant shaft of light and descended upon the mountain. There he professed his undying commitment to us, and asked for our unwavering loyalty.

For forty years we were shepherded through a dangerous desert and miraculously provided food, drink and shelter. He brought us to the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey. He vanquished our enemies, conquered our land and handed us power, prosperity and the respect of nations.

Did we love him? Did we give him our unwavering commitment? Of course we did! Who wouldn't? We built him a temple and worshipped him in it. We observed his laws and offered our love. We sacrificed our most treasured possessions on the altar of love.

It was a reciprocal relationship. We liked what he offered and gave our best in return. Our love was real, but it was first-stage love, ego based and conditional.

At one point, however, the relationship progressed into the soul stage. We didn't know it at the time, but when our gifts were taken and we still loved him, we discovered that our relationship had matured.

Everything had changed. Our temple was destroyed, our land was taken, our children were slaughtered, our men and women bound in chains and enslaved, and we learned to suffer under the yoke of oppressive nations.

Yet we continued to love him. Why?

Because we realized that G‑d and the Jewish people form a single entity. We had grown so close that we could not imagine life without him. We loved him simply because we did and we would have it no other way.

Our love was now soul-based; unselfish, unconditional and incontrovertible.

Why would a loving G‑d test us this way?

Imagine a husband who desired his wife's affection and to that end, bought her a gift. She loved him for his thoughtfulness, but with time she came to forget it. So he bought her another gift and purchased her love once more. She gradually forgot that gift as well, and he was forced to purchase gift after gift.

The time came when he sadly realized that his wife did not truly love him. She loved only what she received from him. He now knew that he had been manufacturing her love by keeping her supplied with gifts. There was no joy in such love. It wasn't real.

G‑d did not want this kind of relationship either. He was happy to provide for us in the beginning while our love for him was in incubation. But once it matured, he needed to let us go. To cut the proverbial cord and free us to walk on our own. He needed to see if our love would continue, if it was real.

In mystical terms, "G‑d wanted an abode for himself in the lower realm" — the realm in which he is not immediately discernable. He would not force himself upon the collective consciousness of the people, but wanted the people to seek him out of their own accord. In short, he wanted to be wanted.

So he created a universe and then concealed himself from it. He created mankind and gave us a mission: Carve out a place for G‑d in your own realm, but do it of your own volition. I don't want to force myself upon you by showing you my awesome power, my irresistible beauty and my bountiful blessing. I want you to want me because you do.

He did not expect this level of dedication right from the start. He took his time incubating and nurturing our loyalty for him. During this time he showed us his greatness and inspired our love. He nourished the relationship and allowed it to reach its natural zenith.

In the fullness of time we did reach that second stage. Now we felt as if we were an intrinsic part of him, that giving to him was like giving to ourselves. We could no longer imagine being without him and we stood ready to give without waiting to receive.

This is the love G‑d wanted.

The Baal Shem Tov tells a story of a father who hid from his son because he wanted him to search for him. When the child couldn't find him, he gave up and thought that his father had abandoned him. He sat down to cry when an old man explained that his father was not absent, only hiding behind the curtain. He was watching him and hoping that he would seek him out. He was waiting for him to search in earnest.

Our father hides from us, but we know why. We must not be deluded into thinking that we are abandoned and that our relationship is over. We know that he is merely in hiding; hiding, watching and waiting. Waiting for us to seek him out with all our heart and soul, with all the earnestness we can muster.

He wants us to feel his absence and that his absence should fan the flames of our love. He wants us to nurture the embers of our yearning until they explode into an inferno of desire. When we do, he will appear. We await that moment with baited breath, for at any instant it may arrive.