In my opinion, “love” is the most abused word in the English language. We misuse it frequently to convey other feelings, other emotions. And there lies the great pity. For “love”, when properly used and when correctly manifested, is God’s greatest gift to each of us.
When we say “I love chocolate ice cream” what we really mean is that we prefer chocolate ice cream to strawberry or other flavors. When we say “I loved that television program” what we really mean is that we enjoyed the program very much. “When we say I love that blue dress” we are simply stating that the blue dress looks nicer than the red dress.
In short, we use the word “love” to imply a preference, a choice of one thing over another.
But love is not a matter of choosing things. Love is a shared emotion between people. Love is a human feeling. Only people can love one another. Animals are capable of sexual behavior but they lack the emotion of loving. They can demonstrate affection but they cannot communicate love.
Love is the gift which God has given to us to be used wisely and with great care. Love abides forever. It is divine. It is special.
The ancient Greeks, in their wisdom, had three separate words to define love. “Agape” represented the love of man for mankind, of man for the nobility of life and civilization and culture. It represented the highest and most noble ideal of life. Contrasted with “filia”, love becomes a devotion to family, to children, to country. And the third word “eros” represented the erotic, the physical love, the sexual attraction without which no man would marry and procreate to bring children into the world.
In speaking of love, the Greeks used separate words to describe separate human feelings. When speaking of love, the Greeks made no mistakes. They were perfectly clear in conveying the kind of love which they intended.
Perhaps we need to take a lesson from antiquity in order that we may speak of love in its truest and most clear meaning. The simple truth is that we need to speak of love frequently and often. Love should be a word which we use daily but in proper context.
We need to tell our spouses that they are loved by us. We need to tell our parents of our love and devotion for them. And, in my opinion, most importantly we need to tell our children, regardless of their age, that we love them. It is not enough for a child to know that we provide food, shelter, clothing, medical care, toys and entertainment. Every child must hear the words spoken by fathers and mothers every day, “my dearest child, I love you very much”.
No child should ever be in doubt of his or her parents’ love. No child should ever go to sleep at night without hearing a parent’s voice, “goodnight my precious child. I love you”. No husband or wife should lay a head upon a pillow at bedtime without turning to the other saying “Goodnight, my dearest. I love you”.
We need to remember that love does not begin with us. God places it within the hidden recesses of our hearts and we need to find the ability to discover it and to share it.
Love is often misconstrued as being physical or sexual in nature. If it is only that, it cannot be love. Animals engage in sex but do not have love for the object of their sex. In Judaism, sex is a beautiful gift which God has endowed to us. The very first commandment in our Torah which God gave to Adam and to Eve in the Garden of Eden was “p’ru u’r’vu”… be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. That is God’s blessing to us.
Regrettably there is insufficient love in the world today and that leads to hatred, conflict and war between men and nations.
In Jewish tradition we are taught that deed supercedes creed…. that it is what we do rather than what we say which characterizes us. Christianity stresses creed over deed, the need to first believe. Judaism stresses the deed over the creed, that we put our words into actions.
It is not sufficient to say “I love you”. We need to demonstrate that love by what we do. Love is to be used, but never abused. As love begets love, our world becomes a more sacred place in which to live.
Our Torah instructs us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. First we must love and respect ourselves. Lacking that, how can we bring love and respect into other lives?
God has given us His great gift of love. Let us treasure it. Let us use it. But let us use it correctly, wisely and well.