It's In the Details
Matot-Masay (Numbers 30-36 )
The beginning of the parsha enumerates all of the points of encampment of the Jewish People throughout their forty-year sojourn in the desert (Bamidbar 33:1-49). Rashi asks why the Torah does this - why enumerate all 42 places of encampment (Bamidbar 33:1)? One answer that Rashi provides is that it is akin to a king whose son took ill and he brought him to a distant place to seek treatment. On their way home, the boy's father counted all of their places of encampment on the way there, and he said to his son, "Here is where we slept, here we got cold, here your head started bothering you, etc."
It seems quite clear that what Rashi means to convey is that this enumeration of the encampments is an expression of endearment. We find a similar notion regarding the various times when Hashem commanded Moshe to count the People. There as well, Rashi explains that it is an expression of love from our Father in Heaven (Bamidbar 1:1).
One might wonder: still, we know that there is not one superfluous word or letter in the Torah - not even one superfluous crown on the letters! If so, why did Hashem find it necessary to express His love for us through such lengthy wording? Why not just say, "I love you"?
Imagine a father coming home from a long day of work. He is received by his anxious four-year-old child who is beaming from ear to ear and enthusiastically waving a piece of paper that looks like it either got run over by an oily tire of a truck or was used as the child's placemat for lunch-time. "Look daddy; look at my painting! I made it all by myself! Isn't it great?!" "Yeah," answers his father, "it's wonderful ... where's mommy, is dinner ready yet ... I'm famished. Why don't you go put your project in your room because it's already past your bed-time. I love you. Good night."
It is safe to assume that that four-year-old-boy might not take the "I love you" that his father said to him so seriously. The saying "talk is cheap" would be quite appropriate in this example. The truth is, though, that it is only cheap talk that is cheap. In this example, the father's "I love you" is cheap because it is not genuine. If the father, at that particular moment, had felt his innate love for his child being manifest, he would have shown a much greater interest in whatever it was that was so meaningful to his child. He would have taken the picture in hand and proceeded to enumerate all of the details of the painting that indeed make it so beautiful. After doing so, he would have stuck it on to the fridge and told his son that he is so proud of him and is so happy that now he has such a beautiful painting to look at every day.
We see then that a simple "I love you" is not enough. To properly express the emotions one must go into great detail. Think about a beautiful house or a magnificent banquet. What is it that gives it that exquisite touch? It is of course the designer or the chef's careful attention to ensure that every detail is perfect. The mouth-watering steak just does not have the same effect if not accompanied by the saut?ed vegetables and exotic, Hawaiian sauce - and, of course, served just so to achieve maximum aesthetic appeal as well. If the detail work on a paint job is not done carefully, it will turn out looking like a slop job no matter how expensive and beautiful the paint is.
When expressing emotions of love and endearment, it is the attention to detail that shows that you really care. Sure, one must often say an explicit "I love you" and the like - but that alone is not what is going to "do the trick". It is the careful attention to the seemingly minor details that truly shows how great the love being expressed is.
1. Eruvin 21b.
2. It could very well be that the father is indeed famished and tired and is as such not in a state of mind to be able to properly express his love and endearment for his child. The appropriate course of action then would be to say to the child something to the following effect: Your painting really is very beautiful, and I really want to be able to look at it properly, but right now I am so tired and hungry that I won't be able to. Could you please show it to me in the morning? That way I'll feel refreshed and I'll be able to look at it the way you deserve!" Of course, the father must then make sure to do so in the morning.
3. By the way, although he will of course not find anything particularly aesthetically pleasing about the child's "painting", the father will nevertheless take great pleasure in gazing upon a work that is infused with his child's creative energy and enthusiasm, in addition to perceiving in it his child's progression of development.