Two cherubs of gold stood on either end of the covering of the holy Ark in the Temple. Our Sages relate that when the Jewish people followed G‑d’s will, the cherubs faced each other, embracing like lovers; when the Jewish people were rebellious, the cherubs would avert their gaze and face opposite walls.

Our Sages state that when the gentile invaders entered the Holy of Holies, they saw the cherubs embracing. They brought them out to the marketplace and displayed them, exclaiming, “How could Israel worship these?”

As we know, during the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash G‑d “poured out His wrath like fire; G‑d was like an enemy.” Why, then, were the cherubs intertwined in love at this time of apparent anger? If their configuration reflected the fluctuating relationship between G‑d and Israel, what could their embrace mean at a time when “He cut down, in fierce rage, the pride of Israel?”

These questions can be resolved through a more comprehensive understanding of our relationship with G‑d. At one level, the bond is dependent upon Israel’s conduct. If Israel is meritorious, she will be rewarded; if she sins, she will be punished. In this vein, exile appears to be a punishment, an expression of G‑d’s wrath at Israel’s misdeeds.

This view, however, reflects only one dimension of the bond between G‑d and Israel. Beyond this connection, however, there is a deeper relationship, a level at which Israel are “children unto the L-rd your G‑d.” The Baal Shem Tov intensifies the child-parent metaphor: G‑d cherishes every Jew with the love of a parent for an only child who is born to him in his old age.

A father does not love his son only because the son is virtuous or obedient; most fundamentally, he loves him - unconditionally and unwaveringly - because he is his son. With or without redeeming qualities, his father loves him.

G‑d loves Israel in the same way. No matter what our conduct, we are His children. Therefore, even when G‑d appears to be displeased with us, His love for us is revealed in the Holy of Holies, at the inner core of the Sanctuary.

Continuing with the child-parent metaphor, we can even understand G‑d’s wrath as an expression of love. It is written, “He who withholds the rod, hates his son,” implying that when a parent punishes a child he is in fact manifesting his love. In fact, defying one’s natural impulse to excuse misconduct, and instead rebuking a cherished child, demonstrates a deep and selfless commitment on the part of the parent.

Following this pattern, exile can be conceived as a temporary medium to a positive end. G‑d’s purpose in exiling His people is to elevate them to a higher rung, and the hardships endured - however difficult - are eclipsed by their ultimate goal.

The awareness of the nature of this process is a fundamental element in bringing it to its culmination. When a child realizes his parent’s love and corrects his conduct, his parents will no longer show him any harshness. Similarly, our consciousness of G‑d’s love for us will motivate us to mirror those emotions. And this in turn will motivate His love to be expressed only in positive ways.