Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 19 July 2003 / 19 Tammuz 5763

Love

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: Barbara in England

Dear Rabbi,

The religious form of dating seems somewhat artificial and contrived. I mean, how can two people who are "set up" unnaturally actually fall in love. The lack of romance and infatuation would seem to doom the couple to a marriage of boredom at best. Thank you for your answer.

Dear Barbara,

Infatuation is not romance, romance is not love, and neither of them necessarily leads to happiness in marriage. Dr. Dana L. Farmsworth, Director of the Harvard University Health Services wrote, "the experiences in our college and other psychiatric services lead us to believe that those who ignore conventional standards are surely no more effective or happy than those who observe them. In fact…non-conformists experience more depression, anxiety, agitation, loss of self-esteem and other inhibiting emotional conflict". Documented studies by sociologist Robert O. Blood, Jr. also reveal that "premarital intimacy is associated more closely with broken relationships than with strengthened ones; that twice as many engagements are broken among couples who had intimacy than among those who did not…and that both divorce and adultery are more common among those couples who indulge."

In addition, many people have a mistaken concept of love. Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian commented that people often say they love fish. What do they do with the fish that they love? They kill it, cut it up, bake it, chew it, and swallow it. Do they really love the fish? They love themselves and the pleasure that the fish provides them. The fish is nothing more than an object for self-gratification. When they’re done with the fish, they throw the remains to the garbage. In our society of convenience and disposability, people often treat people as objects for immediate gratification to be discarded after use. They call this love. Our Sages thus taught, "Love that depends on another factor, when the factor ceases to exist, so does the love. But when love does not depend on another factor, it never ceases to exist". "Love" that is no more than infatuation based on fleeting factors like good looks, wealth or fame is doomed to failure, while love which grows over time as a result of mutual giving and appreciation of another’s inner traits endures.

The idea of "falling" in love, then, is foreign to Judaism. Rather a Jewish couple is elevated and grows in love. This is evident in the verse "Isaac brought [Rebecca] into his mother Sara’s tent, she became his wife, and he loved her." Shouldn’t Isaac have loved Rebecca before marrying her? The answer is that he couldn’t have. Only after seeing that her righteousness and inner beauty continued in the context and commitment of married life, despite its difficulties, was he truly able to love her. The same applies for her love of him. Then they "rose" in love together.

The Hebrew word for love is Ahava, the root of which is Hav, which means to give. Only through mutual giving can a couple achieve true love. Furthermore, the gematria (numerical equivalent) of Ahava is 13, and so is that of Echad (one). From here we see that a couple achieves unity only through love and giving; if each only takes from the other, they will never unite but always remain separate. In fact, the commandment "Love your fellow as you love yourself" also applies to husband-wife relationships. The Talmudic rabbis taught: "One must love his wife like himself, and honor and respect her more than himself." Once Rabbi Aryeh Levin’s wife felt pain in her foot. They went to the doctor together whereupon the doctor asked, "What can I do for you?" Rabbi Levin answered in all sincerity, "Doctor my wife’s leg is hurting us."

Sources:

  • Jewish Alternatives in Love, Dating, and Marriage, Pinchas Stolper, p. 4.
  • Lev Eliyahu, Parshat Vayetze
  • Pirkei Avot 5:16
  • Genesis 24:67, Targum Onkelus
  • Berachot 24a, Yebamot 62b

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