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What is Love?

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02/12/2015

What is Love? photo

Love is a verb. It’s not a passive experience. Love is an action we have to take, to inculcate and breed. It doesn’t “just happen.” Initial infatuation, fantasized romantics and the projection of ideals, those “just happen,” and they wear off over time too. But true love takes time, involvement, energy and a lot of effort.

What does that effort look like? Interestingly, the loving relationship between man and woman is referred to biblically as “knowing.” Knowing someone breeds loving them. Well, at least it can. It depends on what we get to know about them, and more importantly, which aspects of them we focus on.

We live in a world where the more simplistic relationship (i.e. superficial) appears more glamorous than the deeper reality is. The cute person we see in edited pictures on Facebook and Instagram is more alluring than the real person behind them. Can we find getting to know them, and them getting to know us, to be a truly loving and rewarding relationship?

Ultimately, this requires what Judaism calls the “good eye.” Ever heard of the “evil eye?” It’s the same thing, just the opposite. Having a “good eye” is when we take an active effort to see the good in someone else. But that’s easier said than done. We live in a world where everything we see and do has to be “new and improved.” Every item we own becomes outdated within a few months when a new and improved model comes out. We can no longer enjoy our phones, cars, computers, etc. from two years ago. They’re obsolete. We are frustrated with every feature they are missing.

That may work fine for technology, but for people, and especially in loving relationships, it’s a severe fallacy. We don’t have software upgrades on character development. We have to process life organically. And so in a relationship, when we apply the “perfection perspective,” our perception becomes warped. We lose sight of the gem of a person we have a relationship with. With people, there is always a surplus of good and not-as-good waiting to be seen. The choice of where to focus is ours.

Remember the story of Adam and Eve? The snake, the apple (it wasn’t an apple, by the way), the curse, the banishment from the Garden of Eden … it ends with Adam naming his wife, Eve. It’s a naming ceremony. That’s a funny conclusion, no? Even more peculiar, the Torah actually tells us why he named her Eve (Chava in Hebrew), because “she is the mother of all things living (Chai = life).” What’s funny is that she isn’t exactly a mother yet. She hasn’t birthed anyone!

But if we take the story a little deeper, we realize an important lesson. He was seeing potential in her, a beautiful trait within her that he was tapping into. They had just been through some rough times together. He could easily have gone into a nasty cycle of anger and frustration with her and everything that happened. But he didn’t. He used the “good eye.” He was seeing good in her, and he wanted to share that with her. Through this name of affection, based on the innate good he saw within her as an eternal maternal persona for all existence, he shared with her a deep love and knowledge of not only who she was, but also who she would become.

True knowledge of another person is to see their essence along with all their potential for the good, and that is essential for true love.

This piece was inspired by the Love, Dating, and Marriage Dinner Series Rabbi Josh and his wife Laura have been giving throughout February. The series is a project of Chicago YJP in collaboration with JCC 20s & 30s and the Center for Jewish Genetics.)  

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