It is well known among those who know me that I am able to converse in eight languages. My parents always were astounded at my ability to master foreign languages and could often pass as a native speaker in several of them.
But there is one language which I can speak and write but cannot read.
It is my ninth language which I call the “language of love”. I have successfully been able to speak it for most of my life. For the past seventy years I have spoken it to beloved friends of my lifetime… 99% of them fellow Israelis and perhaps one percent for others in other lands. Friends are the things I treasure most, next to my children and other family members. “O chavruta o mituta”…. Give me friends or give me death.
In expressing my love for them, my Israeli comrades understand me clearly and they reciprocate likewise. Friends in other countries are often taken back at my free expression of love. It is obviously not common practice in their closed societies. I, however, am open and express my feelings openly. If I offend anyone, I regret it and make my sincere apologies known.
The word “love” appears in the bible 759 times. In the Greek translation of the bible, it appears four times, each with a different interpretation of love.
Agape is a universal sense of love. Filia is the love of one for another, especially in families. Eros is the physical, sexual love that aids in procreation. And the fourth, storge, is the familial love between parents and children in particular.
In my ninth language I select the kindest words in both agape and filia. They are universally accepted. If I slip into eros, I am treading in dangerous waters. Complete explanations must precede and follow in order to keep safe from drowning. The loss of a good friend is very painful to me.
While I first felt my love for my wife within hours of our first meeting, I withheld any expression of love for a few days. And after that, my words of agape and filia flowed like a waterfall and were ultimately expressed in the dialect of eros.
Recently, in a written “conversation” with a cherished friend who does not live in Israel, I used words that could have been offensive. Realizing it after I had sent it, I felt guilt and shame and I apologized with sincerity. It taught me the lesson of using words carefully so that they cannot be misunderstood.
Language is a very powerful thing. Wars have begun and have been fought because of words used by some and rejected by others.
It is for that specific reason and the divine command not to harm others that our Torah teaches us:
“Guard thy tongue from speaking evil and thy lips from guile” and “Love thy neighbor as thyself”.
It may be easier to guard one’s tongue from speaking evil but more difficult to follow the second half.
If one does not love himself/herself, how is it possible to love one’s neighbor? I interpret neighbor to mean friend.
If, then, the use of the word “love” in the ninth language must be used with extreme caution or even omitted, how is one able to express intense feelings of admiration, care, respect, devotion, in words which denote true love?
“Ahavah raba ahavtanu”…. With great love hast Thou loved us. Words which we address when speaking to God.
My life-long friends, cherished and devoted friends of more than seventy years, together with me use the word “ahavah” (Love) frequently without shame or hesitation. It is an important and even a sacred word between us.
And if it is my ninth language, I will speak it proudly. And I feel assured that those who speak or read the same language will respond.
Most of my day I am alone, reading, writing and lying on the bed beside my sole loving companion, my eight-year-old female Israeli Canaan dog, a sabra born in Jerusalem. As I stroke her fur, rub her belly and smother her with kisses from head to tail I tell her how much I love her and how precious is her love to me. I think of her not as a four-legged animal. Rather as one of my children who is meant to be cuddled and reminded how much I love her and care for her. Perhaps she replies but in a language I do not understand. Perhaps it’s her version of my own ninth language. But it is very genuine love.
Our Bible teaches us: “V’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha”… love your friend as you would hopefully love yourself. I impose another version on that commandment. “V’ahavta l’kalbacha kamocha”… love your dog as she loves you. But unlike her, I have no tail to wag to show my love.
My advice and recommendation to all humanity: Try to learn how to speak the ninth language. It is the best medicine for empty or lonely lives. It is God’s gift for us to use and to enjoy. Make good use of it.