Monday, August 27, 2007

Love, What Does It Mean?

As with anything in life one can find many opinions on any given topic. Sometimes it is important to have a base of opinions in order to see things from broad perspective. So this brings me to the topic of love and exactly what is it. What does it really mean when people say that they love each other?

I love God, and as Jews we say prayers that express our love for God. Yet, how many times do people really think about what it means to love God?

"When man contemplates concerning these things, and perceives all creatures, whether angel, sphere, or man the likeness of himself, and discovers the wisdom of the Holy One, blessed is He! In all beings of form and in all creatures, his love for the Omnipresent increases and his soul and body thirst and yearn to love God, blessed is He! And, fear and terror, because of his own insignificance, shortcomings and levity seize him when comparing himself to one of the great and holy bodies, verily so to one of the pure forms, separated from bodies of clay, which never joined a body of clay. He then will find himself likened to a vessel full of shame and disgrace, empty and wanting."

Rabbi Mosheh ben-Maimon, Mishnah Torah: Book I.4.II

I love my mother, and know if my father, of blessed memory was still here I would love him also. Yet, when I tell my mother I love her what does that really mean? Do I love them simply because they are my parents and that is the right thing to do, or is there something more to it? By like token when I found a woman who was pleasing to me and I told her I loved her, what did I really mean by that? When I feel like I love a woman, what brings on such feelings or emotions? How do I know that they are real, and what sustains such a feeling? I have family who I feel like I don't love, and I have friends who I love so much I would trust my life with them. So what does that mean? One day I, by the Hand of God, I hope to be married and have children. What will it mean when I tell my wife I love her, or when I ebrace my children with love?

I once read a book called The Road Less Traveled by Dr. Beck Scott. I read the book on the suggestion of DeLana, the woman mentioned in the Better to Have Loved and Lost: Part 1. One of the comments I found interesting in the book was that love is one of those things that really can't be quantified. What he did say was that maybe one can look at love as two people who choose to follow a common path together, based on certain circumstances. He further stated that when people say they fell in love, people can easily fall out of those kind of feelings. He believed that love is a development, and he preferred to say instead, "I am learning to love this person."

Another commentary I once heard about love defined one aspect of it when two or more people decide to have a relationship with each. They in turn make a commitment to continue to work at the relationship no matter the cost. If one or both decide to no longer work at it, the relationship will dissolve. Connected with this idea is the age old Jewish adage of loving your neighbor as yourself. On the subject of loving your neighbor as yourself, Rabbi Mosheh ben-Maimon (Rambam), states in his book the Mishnah Torah, Sefer Daoth that this means that you respect his/her honor and their prosperity. If you love someone you would do your best not to bring down their honor or affect their prosparity in a negative way. You would also do whatever is in your power to uplift the honor and prosperity of said person.

Rabbi Pinchas Stolper wrote in insightful article concerning the religious Jewish position called Love, Dating, and Romance:

"Romantic love is not always related to real love, especially when it ignores the true personalities and mutual interest of those involved. To be ruled by one's emotions and feelings, uncontrolled and undirected by logic, values and clear thinking, with no clear sense of goals and responsibility, is to ignore the only factors which can establish a firm foundation for a permanent and mature life-long relationship.

The theme repeated everywhere in novels and movies is that "I am in love and my love is beyond my control"; "I fell in love"; it was as though someone pushed me off a cliff and it was all accidental and unintentional. The Jewish approach warns us not to "love in spite of yourself", but to love "because of yourself". Find out what you're headed for. Enter into the love relationship with your eyes open, not with your eyes closed. Don't accept blind dates, unless you know who the potential partner is.

If you find that you are "falling", realize while your eyes are still open, while you can still think clearly and objectively, who this person is for whom you are falling. By whom, I refer to background, commitment, education, character, personality, family, friends, values, concern for others, goals and ideals--the things that really count--not the external, superficial things, some of which may be "put on".

Fall in love with the real person inside the skin. Fall in love deliberately, with control, not on the rebound, or because you're simply "in love with love". Fall in love only after you have come to know yourself, not because you feel insecure and think "no one loves me", and not because you don't get along with your parents and are anxious to leave home. Don't let your craving for acceptance or love lead you to throw yourself at the first person who gives you a tumble or is "pliable" in physical conduct."

There is an old Arabic saying I was recently reminded of by fellow Israeli blogger Miriam. It states that when God creates each person who will be married he puts the name of their intended on their heads, and only He (God) can see it. There is an old Jewish saying that when God creates a soul that will be married he splits it into two parts. One for the man and one for the woman, and in both situations it is a matter of the two people finding each other.

So what do you think? What does love mean to you?


Miriam said...

Great topic for the month of Elul! And thanks for the link.

Love. I agree that its hard to qualify it.

I'm probably not the one to answer this one.LOL. I love my husband but in a strange way! Somedays, his lips are so attractive to me, other days, its his hands. Its strange. I think I love him in pieces! I also like hear about his day. Okay, i'm rambling.

With Hashem, sometimes -well, I know alot of times its gratitude for so so much. part of it is hope because He's the only one that's got the power. But sometimes it really is love. Just basic love. the more I understand of Him, the more I love Him. But its such a high level, that if I don't keep up the learning, etc it gets stagnant and returns back to gratitude and hope. (Also fear is in there).

An attempt at analogy: I think love is in the realm of keter. just above the head, just when you think you 've got it figured out, your back to wondering what was its definition again...

zachdus said...

Great post. And great question. We use the word too lightly, for sure. Like I use it more as, "I wholeheartedly accept you as a human being and am SO glad you're alive."

Miriam said...

I just re-read my comment. I hope it was not untzenius. (sigh) I'll do better next time.

Ehav Ever said...

Hello Miriam,

I personally don't think there was a problem with your comment, especially since it seems to allude to something more than just the physical. You mentioned how you love your husband in peices, which would to me imply that everyday you are able to find something new to love about your husband. Much the like the Shir HaShirim, that the Melekh loved his beloved for a variety of things. This in turn, according to the Targum, is how Hashem loves Am Yisrael.

I think we live in a day and time, where people don't really know how to love. You see in America, you see it here in Israel. I think what you wrote can be changed to why a person loves their family members or their children. I have noticed a number of times when I see mothers with babies or young children. I see them checking their faces, checking their noses, and checking their hair. If something is out of place I see them pulling out a kerchief and dealing with it. As the kid tries to avoid it. I also see it when a child is asleep and I have seen mothers looking at their children. Checking them over, and on their faces you see love.

Amanda said...

I agree with everything that was written. Love is a very difficult and delicate subject. There are mroe factors invloved then most people realize. I love the way that this blog was written. However, I also believe that love is about giving. Which, natually, is a difficult trait. It is easy to take but it is about giving that is a crutial part of love. Giving oneself completely to another is ultimatly the sign of eternal love and trust; Simply because it is putting someone else before you. A relationship is not going to be real, mutually repectful, or long-lasting if one is constantly consintrating and dwelling on what he is getting out of it. The fundimental If one is willing to give up everything for the saticfaction of a lover, that should be a big enough hint. In addition, what better way to say "You mean everything to me" by giving chocolate and roses :)

♥ Amanda