Love, that oft used word, sung about in songs, written about in Poetry; What is it?
The Most Vital Ingredient In Life
Love is the single most necessary ingredient for human happiness, and relationships; and it is the purest expression of the soul making it also a G-dly act.
Two Kinds Of Love
There are two kinds of love – diametrically opposed – and for this reason there is much confusion about love.
Selfish Vs. Selfless Love
There is selfish, narcissistic, indulgent, self centered love, and selfless, giving, caring, love.
The Sages in Pirkei Avos gives an example from two stories about these two kinds of loves.
The first is Amnon’s rape of Tamar. (Amnon had a half sister who was very beautiful and he desired her so much that he fell ill and a friend suggested a scheme how he could rape her.) As soon as he finished his cowardly terrible crime the author tells us an amazing thing, that with the same amount of passion that he loved her before, he now hated her. How is that possible? If he really loved her so much how could he now hate her so much? The answer is obvious to the thinking person, for he never loved her rather he wanted to lie with her. Why did he want to lie with her? Was it because of a desire for his gratification or for her gratification? When we look into this we clearly see that his love, was not love, it was lust, so the moment his desire ceased – the moment it was satisfied – all of his love ceased (and in all probability he now hated her for he blamed her for making him do such a low thing, as men who sometimes do bad things blame women, while it is really their desire that is motivating them).
The Sages continue with another example, one of unconditional, selfless, true love, and this was the love between Yonasan and David (later King David.) They were like brothers despite the fact that Yonasan knew that his father King Shaul wanted to kill David as David was destined to be the next king, and he wanted Yonasan to be the next King. Now put yourself in Yonasan’s shoes, would you love or hate David? Your father is trying to kill him and he will be the king instead of you; think of what people have done to become a king, but Yonasan not only loves David but he saves him from his father by warning him of a plot to kill him and eventually when David becomes king he looks after Mipiboshes, Yonasan’s lame child like his own son. That is true love. It is not about gratification of a desire that I have and you can fulfill, but “I love you unconditionally that even if you will take my kingdom my love is so strong that I still love you.”
The best example of this is of a parents love for a child, a love which should be and often is unconditional and no matter what the child will do the parent will always unconditionally love the child.
Again from King David we find such a love; when his own son Avsholom organized a massive rebellion against his father and David had to flee Jerusalem nonetheless he instructed his general Yoav not to kill his son in war and when his general Yoav killed Avsholom he cried and lamented and sang a ballad about him. We see from this what unconditional love is.
How do we achieve unconditional love for other people in our lifetime?
Let us first examine why it is that a parent has such a love for a child; or why family members love each other unconditionally and from there we will be able to learn how we can treat everyone as family.
The Rambam (a great philosopher and Halachick codifier) writes that love in a family is because each member feels that the other member is part of himself; that there is a union, a common bond between them. So the more a person feels that the other person is “like me,” the greater the love for the other person is.
The Alteh Rebbe (the author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch) explains how we can achieve this feeling with every single person uniting us as one family.
When we realize that in every body there is a soul and the origin and source of all souls is from one place so effectively we are all “a chip off the old block” so all of us are one. The Tzemach Tzedek (the third Lubavitcher Rebbe) teaches that we should imagine that all souls come from one large stone and when we imagine this we see and feel how you and I are really the same; For our bodies are not whom we really are, as all of our bodies will simply disintegrate and be eaten by worms and maggots, so I definitely don’t want my body to be me for then at some point in the future I won’t exist anymore and I will die a horrible death as the Talmud states “a worm to the body is as painful after death as before.” (For as people identify with their body therefore they feel that their identity is being eaten “alive” by the lowly worm.) Furthermore we now know that the body is constantly replenishing its cells, the eyes that you have this week are not the same eyes that you had last week, they are entirely new eyes, every single organ in your body recreates itself, so your liver, kidneys, even you skin that you have now is not the same liver kidneys and skin that you had a few years ago. So if you are your body than you are in a constant state of flux however if you are your soul, namely a part of G-d in you, than you are eternal, for the soul never dies nor does its essence change. (Yes we can add light or darkness to it by doing good or bad things but the essence of the soul like a diamond buried in the ground is always a diamond and although the diamond may be covered with grime and is in the need of a good polish, it is nonetheless a brilliant stone.)
Achieving this selfless love and sense of unity with ones fellow is at the very heart of Judaism, the very reason why G-d created the world, the reason why G-d sent the Baal Shem Tov (the first Chasidic master) to the world, the reason for the coming of Moshiach and it is innately our desire in any event.
Wouldn’t you want a harmonious world where your brother is your brother, where you need not fear any man, where you love every man, where you can’t do enough for others and they can’t do enough for you, where we are all “united under G-d’” as one big happy family? Of course you would.
Let me give you some quotations from our Sages to prove that this is truly the essence and purpose of Judaism and G-d’s desire for humanity.
“A gentile once came to Hillel and asked him to teach him the entire Torah / Bible while he stands on one foot. “What you do not want others to do to you, do not do to them and the rest is the commentary of this principle.” Hillel the greatest sage in his time unequivocally stated that the entire Torah is for one goal and that is to teach man how to be nice to one another.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that when a Jew is happy for another Jews successes and is sad over his losses this is dearer to G-d than the prayers of Rabbi Yishmoel Cohen Godal in the Kodesh Hakodoshim on Yom Kippur. So when you are genuinely happy for your fellows successes and when you are genuinely sad over their losses then you have given G-d greater joy than Rabbi Yishmoel Cohen Godal (the holiest Jew of his time) when he was praying in the Kodesh Hakodoshim (the holist place in the world) on Yom Kippur (the holiest day of the year).
This is not an exaggeration, for G-d is first and foremost a parent to every single person and thus the real desire and Nachas / joy of a parent is when their children live together in harmony and love, caring for one another, helping one another, and commiserating with one another when need be.
Once the Chassidim / disciples of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Harodok were farbrenging (an informal gathering of Chassidim – pious people) and the Alteh Rebbe was in Harodok at that time and was in attendance. After the assembled learned some Torah together they were involved in holy talk (talk on holy matters such as the Torah and Chassidus / Jewish Mysticism) and they also brought mashkeh / vodkah to the table. In the middle of the talks one of the Chasidim who was (Rachmanah Litzlan / Heaven Forefend) someone who suffered from ill health and the doctors could not find a cure for him got up and with tears asked the Chassidim to bless him with good health.
Some of the Chassidim hearing that he was requesting a blessing from them began to laugh (Chassidim are very humble people and thus do not think that they are capable of blessing anyone.) They said, “Do we have power to bless people, what makes you come up with such wild notions?” Some of them were also upset that he should think that simple people like them were capable of giving blessings because blessings can only be given from the Tzaddikim (very righteous people) of the generation (which were known to have great powers and awesome effects.)
But the Chassid was not satisfied and he continued to entreat them to bless him, and within his entreaties he heaved with great sighs and cries.
Some of the Chassidim seeing the great distress that their friend was in started to sing a melody in the hope that through it they would calm his grieving soul.
Then the Alteh Rebbe said “Sha” (silence,) and everyone was quite. And also the Chossid who was crying stopped crying, and the Alteh Rebbe said, “Brothers and friends, have you forgotten the saying that came from heaven during the Farbrengen of The Holy Society – the students of our Rabbi (the Maggid of Mezritsh) that “what a Chassidic Farbrengen can achieve even Malach Michoel (the angel whose task it is to achieve salvation for the people in general and for individuals in particular) cannot achieve?!”
Then all assembled roused their hearts with a great love and fellowship with their friend who was crying and they blessed him from the depths of their hearts for a complete and speedy recovery.
In that gathering the Alteh Rebbe explained the logic behind “what a Chassidic Farbrengen can achieve even Malach Michoel cannot achieve!” with a beautiful example.
He explained: The way of children is that they want good things for themselves not caring about what their friends have; they are very particular about what is “mine”, and by nature are very jealous of “yours,” and some children can’t even stand if another child has more than they do and they are easily angered, jealous, and get into fights. From such children a father has great agmas nefesh / heartache; so a father wanting to educate such children found a good and strict teacher to guide his children properly, and after some time the father realized that his children were now behaving with love and friendship towards one another; each child was genuinely concerned about his brother and was prepared to help his brother and even forgo his own desires and needs for his brothers desires and needs. The father was so happy and glad from his children’s good behavior that he would give them anything that they requested as well as amply rewarding the teacher who taught his children to be such good children.
And Rabbi Zalman Zezmir (who related the above mentioned story in Harodok) concluded that a Chassidic Farbrengen can have greater effects then what Malach Michoel can achieve on high. The Tzaddik Rabbi Hillel of Partich explained “what a Chassidic Farbrengen can achieve even Malach Michoel cannot achieve” refers not only to the blessing for good health, life, children and sustenance that a Chassidic gathering can achieve – and even more than malach michoel can achieve – but also in spiritual matters a Chassidic Farbrengen can set people on the right direction for life, giving them spiritual joy and meaning in life.
The Friedikeh Rebbe (the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s father in law and predecessor) writes “I had great pleasure in the Farbrengen; every Farbrengen brings about a great spiritual benefit in strengthening ones internal spiritual bond (to G-d) and love and friendship (of the participants.) That each person assists their friend in every way possible, materially like brothers according to the Torah, that each person should be as concerned with his friends problems as much as he is concerned with his own. To genuinely take part in his friends joy and to be there for his friend in difficult times, to uplift and support him, and this is the entire purpose of a Chassidisheh Farbrengen from bygone times until today namely to uplift hearts in achieving a love for G-d and a reverence for G-d, which is how we provide ourselves with the means to please G-d. And the foundation of this love and the vehicle for it is loving ones fellow in general and specifically the brotherly love between the Chassidic community. And this love brings about a sense of unity of minds with good resolutions in creating study times for Maamarim (Chasidic teachings.”)
Rabbi Aikvah says “Love your friend as you love yourself” is the founding principle of the Torah / Bible.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that it makes sense that a soul will come down to this world and live seventy eighty years in order to do for a fellow a favor; a materiel favor, and certainly a spiritual favor.
In other words a person may live seventy years and the entire purpose of that life was one favor whether a material one or a spiritual one (bringing someone closer to Torah and Mitzvos.)
The Baal Shem Tov teaches that the main mitzvah / commandment of “Love your friend as you love yourself” is to think about things that cause you to love for your friends.
This is similar to the Mitzvah to love G-d. Obviously someone cannot be commanded to love someone else, for love is an emotion which you either have or you don’t. As one of my teachers would say, “Either you love chocolate cake or your don’t. You can’t command someone to love chocolate cake.” However you can command someone to think about things that arouse a love for G-d, as G-d has given us so much already; our lives, family, health, body, souls, world, religion and much much more. So by thinking about these things one comes to have a love for G-d, for love is a reciprocal feeling. (“As water mirrors the face that peers into it so too hearts mirror one another.”) So by realizing that G-d loves you, you will come to love G-d.
For example: The easiest way to think about things that will create a love for a fellow Jew is to think about the innate goodness found within the Jewish people. Think about how much charity, compassion, and humanity every Jew offers. The Jewish people have started countless charitable institutions based simply on a sense of compassion for fellow man or even for animals. This is greatly disproportionate to the gentile world creation of corresponding charities.
Love in Marriage
Our sages teach us that the Hebrew word for man is Ish: Alef-Yud-Shin while the Hebrew word for woman is Ishah: Alef-Shin-Hey. So they both have Alef-Shin in their names and Alef Shin spells Eish which is fire. So when there is no Yud-Hei which is G-d’s name than we have Eish / fire; a raging fire which many couples know what I mean. What does the Yud-Hei stand for? There are many things that G-d stands for but most of all G-d stands for kindness, giving. Our sages tell us that the world was built through kindness, meaning G-d created a kind world for us to live in. It only takes a moment’s thought to see this. Think about how we most often do not have pain and if there is pain it is to alert us to a more serious problem so we can cure it. If we ignore for a moment what we don’t have and think about what we do have, we will be amazed to see the great kindnesses and giving that G-d has.
Ask yourself; if I were to list all the things that I have and I would miss not having around, and then list all the things that I feel are lacking in my life, which list would be greater. Just to give you an example I will make this list now for you so you get an idea how to do it.
|Things that I would miss if taken away from me||Things that I want but I do not have now|
|All kinds of food|
|Internal Body Heat|
|My Mentors Teachings|
|The Jewish festivals|
|My teaching ability|
All these things have been ensured by G-d and it is only a small fraction of what we really have especially when we consider how the world is perfectly placed where it is, that the difference between summer and winter is a thirty three degree tilt of the world on its axis. So if the world would have been larger or smaller the tilt would cause the world to burn up or freeze up not to mention either too much gravity would permanently glue us to our spots, or too gravity would cause us literally to jump six feet with every step like on the moon. The list of kindnesses and giving is actually endless.
So when there is love, and love causes giving, then there is G-d, then there is harmony unity and happiness, however when there is selfishness (and selfishness doesn’t mean “I don’t need you, rather I need you, the focus is on my needs not yours) then there is fire, acrimony, heartache, and misery.
Adam and Eve
G-d created Adam and Eve as one body like Siamese twins and then Eve was separated from Adam at the rib cage to teach us that we are one separated into two, not two that need to become one. What’s the difference? As mentioned before, when we realize that we have something in common, then we love one another, we give to one another, we share with one another, we help one another, we feel joy at the good times of one another, and sorrow at the bad times of one another; we uplift and support one another. But if we see ourselves as separate bodies, distant, and the only reason we have to unite with someone else is to get something out of it, then the moment we have received our desire we lose interest in the other person and we are ready for a new relationship, while in truth we never had a relationship to begin with, for a relationship is about unity not individuality, it is about harmony not my needs, it is about your needs not what I can get from you, it is about respecting your goodness not milking your materialism, it is about loving you not getting you to love me, it is about giving not taking, helping not insulting, uplifting not stepping on, caring not indifference, putting oneself aside for another not putting another aside for oneself, it is about acting saintly not selfishly, compassionately not arrogantly, humbly not indifferent, and last but not least it is about truly realizing that we are actually one.
Just some practical advice. Imagine a seesaw, everyone wants to be on the top. If someone puts another person down and then they are above it might feel fun for a moment but rest assured the other person will try to equalize the score and because person “A” was on top therefore person “B” will forever try to get on top of person “A”. So while person “A” has created a momentary pleasure they have also created a permanent fear for now they need to be afraid of person “B” who will always try to get on top.
So the practical advice I can give to couples comes from my Russian grandmother and it’s pretty simple “Don’t treat your spouse like a shmatteh [rag cloth] because if you treat them like a shmatteh she or he will treat you tens times more like a shmatteh.”