What’s a “Love Language?”

In his book, “The Five Love Languages,” Gary Chapman describes a common problem couples have in expressing and receiving love from one another. The problem is that different people experience love, and want to be loved, in different ways. We generally try to show love and affection for others in the way we would like to receive it. For example, if you need to hear loving words spoken to you to feel loved, you will most likely use that method to express your love to others. The problem is, they may best receive love given in a different way, perhaps by touch.

Chapman recognizes that most people are not so simple, and may appreciate more than one, or all five of the ‘love languages’ to varying degrees, but he suggests learning the ‘love language(s)’ of the one you want to give to, so you can give in a way they can most readily receive. The five ‘languages’ Chapman describes are, not necessarily in this order:

  1. Words of Affirmation: Saying “I love you,” or “thank you for…”, for example.
  2. Acts of Service: Doing things for your beloved, like washing the dishes or changing a diaper.
  3. Gifts: Preparing gifts, things or experiences to give to the one you love.
  4. Quality Time: Spending time giving focused attention to each other.
  5. Touch: Hand-holding, hugs, dancing, sexual intimacy.

Do Jews Love G-d?

I saw a video recently about a shop owner in the Old City of Jerusalem who spends a lot of time explaining Judaism to Christians. He said that he was surprised to discover that many Christians don’t know that Jews love G-d. Rather they think we “love Law.” I was struck by how wrong this perception is, but I can see how the misunderstanding happens.

But really, Jews are not ‘in love with the law.’ Rather, one way Jews show our love for G-d is by studying the law. We don’t necessarily show love for Him in the way we would want for ourselves. Rather we show our love in the ways He has been so kind as to clearly request from us through his commandments. And since G-d knows that we need to express our love in ways that speak to us to feel fulfilled, he commanded us to express our love for him in all five love languages.

  1. Words of Affirmation: In our daily prayers we express our love for G-d through words.
  2. Acts of Service: There are many active preparations we are required to do to prepare to perform a commandment, such as our weekly Sabbath preparations, cleaning our homes top to bottom before Passover, collecting a beautiful set of the four species before Sukkot. These are all acts of love that we do for G-d.
  3. Gifts: The sacrificial services done in the Temple. Today we merely ‘mention’ them in our prayers and hope to do them again at a future, rebuilt, Temple in Jerusalem. In a less literal sense, any-time you do an act with the intention of serving G-d, one could consider this a ‘gift.’
  4. Quality Time: There are many times when Jews spend ‘quality time’ with G-d. Some would consider their time praying to fall into this category. For others it may be when they are learning Torah with a friend, poring over the words of the rabbis with loving intensity. Or perhaps it is the walk to and from the synagogue when one is dedicating time to G-d and can quietly focus their thoughts.
  5. An Israeli soldier during his morning prayers. How many love languages are being used? ("IDF soldier put on tefillin" by Yoavlemmer - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.)

    An Israeli soldier during his morning prayers. How many love languages are being used?
    (“IDF soldier put on tefillin” by Yoavlemmer – Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.)

    Touch: There are many tactile experiences involved in a Jew’s service of G-d. In many Jewish households the woman makes bread for the Sabbath every week, and the act of kneading and preparing it can be a sensual experience. Jewish men bind straps (tefillin) around their heads and arms every weekday while reciting the words, “I will bind myself to You forever, and I will bind myself to You with justice, and with law, and with kindness, and with forgiveness, and I will bind myself to You with faith, and I will know G-d”(Hoshea 2:21). This is a physical act we do to literally ‘feel’ ourselves connecting to G-d. Throughout the day when a Jew walks in or out of a room with a mezuzah on the doorpost, it is customary to touch it and then kiss one’s hand. This is another physical expression of our love for G-d.

Of course, G-d doesn’t really ‘need’ anything. He certainly doesn’t need BBQ lambs and words of praise. These are all acts designed to help us develop a relationship with Him, which is the ultimate purpose of creation.

What About Reciprocity?

But wait! So far all we’ve talked about is how we show our love for G-d. For it to be a truly loving relationship it has to be reciprocal, right? It does, and it is. G-d shows his love for us in so many ways every day that we become inured to it. We walk around not realizing that every breath, every bite, every moment with our children, every sunbeam dancing on the wall, is a gift from G-d. Every raindrop is a kiss from heaven.

Part of our daily lives as Jews involves constantly reminding ourselves that everything comes from G-d. One way we do this is through various prayers which act as reminders, most notably through blessings. Blessings are usually short, one line prayers following a standard formula with a few words in the middle that change depending on the case.

There are different kinds of blessings. There are blessings over food and good smells, reminding us that our most basic enjoyments in life are gifts from G-d. There are blessings for thunder and other natural wonders, which remind us of the power of G-d. There are blessings for seeing a friend who was ill or whom you haven’t seen in a long time. There’s a blessing for seeing the sea or a rainbow, a blessing to say after going to the bathroom, a blessing for opening our eyes in the morning and as we lay down to sleep at night.

Our day is punctuated with reminders that everything we experience is from G-d. G-d is constantly expressing his love for us, not in 5 languages, but in every language. The trick is to pay attention.