About love

Judaism is a religion of joy.
R. Hirsch

Love is one of the major (if not the major) aspects of the life of any person. Whoever says that he does not need love is simply a hypocrite. The opposite extreme is the view that true love can be given to God only, and that the love between a man and a woman is, at best, a parody, a surrogate of true love, and is needless in general. Our inner sense of protest often alienates us not only from people who say this, but also from the religion as a whole because we usually consider these people as the bearers of God's truth.

Certainly, love for God takes center stage in the Jewish worldview. Not in any way wishing to belittle the significance of this love, let's try to understand the place of the love between a man and a woman in Judaism.

So, at the very beginning, the Torah says that God created Man. On this subject the Oral Torah says that he was the most perfect person, and that his soul contained the souls of all humanity descended from him. Let's imagine for a moment the greatness and perfection of the First Man, who lived in love and harmony with his Creator and all of His other creatures. Despite all of this, it is written in the Torah, “...And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone.” “How so?,” we'll object. “God is with the Man, loving him and beloved by him. Is that not enough?” But the fact of the matter is that these words are said not by the man, but by God! That is, God himself says that a man, in addition to the love of LORD, also needs the love of a woman, and a woman — the love of a man.

Another fact, confirming the high value of love between a man and woman in Judaism, is “Song of Songs,” written by King Solomon. The Jewish sages say that King Solomon sings the love between God and his nation in the “Song of Songs,” clothing it in a form of the feelings of a man to his beloved. King Solomon uses this analogy not by chance. Namely that the love between a man and a woman was an example, closest in its inner essence and purity, to describe the love between God and a person. If someone does not have enough intelligence to understand this truth, he can rely on King Solomon who is considered to be the wisest person to live on all the earth.

Jewish tradition distinguishes between two kinds of love: passionate and growing. The passionate one begins immediately from the highest heat of emotions and continues on the same level. The growing one takes a low start and gradually grows. Both types of love are found in the life history of the forefather Yaakov. The love of Yaakov and Rachel is love at first sight until the last breath. Such a feeling does not depend on appearance, or on the character of the object of love, and even the inability to procreate cannot damage it (Rachel was not been able to get pregnant for a long time). The love of Yaakov and Leah is a partnership, which becomes stronger depending on the good that the couple does for each other. Only the absence of antipathy towards the partner is required to start such a relationship, (even sympathy is not needed), and also the desire to do him good. A kind of love shown by Yaakov and Leah grows gradually, becoming stronger with the appearance of shared children and the growth of efforts invested in one another. Attitudes towards children is also revealing. Yaakov loves Yosef and Ben-Yamin, because Rachel presented them to him, and loves Leia for those children that she had presented to him. In spite of the fact that the passionate love looks much more attractive, the Torah shows us that its short life. It is either interrupted with death (as in a case of the foremother Rachel), or is eventually transformed into a love of the second kind. Note also, that it is the foremother Leah who is buried in Machpelah cave in Hebron together with the forefather Yaakov.

The two kinds of love can be figuratively compared with two kinds of glue: slow-setting and instant-setting. The result is same, but there are differences. When using a slow-setting glue, a man has enough time to accurately position the items to be glued, while instant-setting glue leaves no room for error. It's interesting that the Torah also uses this comparison. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave (lit.: ‘glue himself’) unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). The word “dvekut” (the name of the process, formed from the root “devek:” “glue”) is used in the Jewish tradition both to describe the highest form of approachment of a man with God and to describe the relationship between husband and wife.

While discussing this subject it's impossible not to recall the commandment of the Torah, “...but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The famous Jewish sage of I–II cent., Rabbi Akiva said, “It is a great principle of the Torah,” and, “Achieving this level is possible only in the relationship [of the husband] with the wife.” As I understand, Rabbi Akiva keeps in mind that the Torah requires us to build a relationship with God and all his creatures, especially with one's spouse on the basis of love. Another wise man, Ben Azay, also made an interesting comment about this commandment saying, “It is the history (lit.: ‘genealogy’) of humanity.” Consider just how great of an idea that is! Any history textbook is full of descriptions of wars, revolutions, epidemics, earthquakes— in short, tragedies. We are accustomed to thinking of history in that way. Ben Azay offers a qualitatively different view: that the history of humanity is the history of love. More precisely, the history during which mankind learns to love. This is similar to the growth and maturation of a child. First, he thinks about himself only (how to satisfy his needs and get things from others), but as he grows older he starts to think about other people, about their needs and feelings. A person learns to give. A person learns to love. Kabbalah says that the [spiritual] root of the term “love” is in the sefira of Chesed (the desire to do good to another). In the same way, humanity as a whole gradually learns to love until they reach a general harmony. And here, again referring to the words of Rabbi Akiva, we'll say that we must begin with the family.

Of course, both love and hatred occur in life. It depends only on the person, to what he gives attention to and what he wants to learn.