One of the most abused and prostituted words in the Hebrew and English languages is the word “love”.
We misuse it frequently to convey other feelings and emotions. And there lies the great pity. For “love”, when properly used and correctly manifested is God’s greatest gift to each of us.
We say “ani ohev glida tut-sadeh”…. I love strawberry ice cream when what we really mean to imply is that “I prefer strawberry to vanilla ice cream”. We say “I loved that program on television” when what we mean is that “I enjoyed that program very much”. We say “I love that blue dress” when what we really mean is 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. In Hebrew, “ohev” is used for both “like and love”. But to like something or someone and to love something or someone are two different things.
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 are incapable of loving. Animals can demonstrate affection but they cannot communicate love.
Love is the gift which God has given to each of us to be used wisely and with great care. 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 finally, “Eros” which represents the erotic physical love, the sexual attraction without which no man would marry and procreate, bringing children into the world. In speaking of love, the Greeks used separate words to describe separate feelings and connotations. When speaking of love the Greeks made no mistakes. They were perfectly clear in conveying the kind of love which they intended. Unlike us, the word “love” was not misused by the ancient Greeks.
The simple truth is that we need to speak of love frequently and often. Love should be a word which we use each day. We need to tell our spouses that they are loved by us. We need to tell our parents of our love for them. And, most important, 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, education, toys and entertainment. Every child needs to hear the words spoken by mothers and fathers every day: “I love you”.
No child should ever be in doubt of parental love. No young child should go to sleep at night without hearing a parent say “Goodnight, my precious child. I love you.” No husband or wife should lay a head upon the pillow at bedtime without turning one to the other and sharing God’s words, “Goodnight my dearest. I love you.”
Let us remember that love does not begin with us. God places it within the hidden recesses of our hearts and we must find the ability to discover it and to share it. Love is often misconstrued as being only physical or sexual in nature. If it is only that, it cannot be genuine love. Animals have sex but do not love their partners. But men and women who love one another are able to communicate that love through sexual activity.
In the Jewish religion, sex is a beautiful gift which God gives to us. The very first commandment which He gave to Adam and Eve was to be fruitful, to multiply, and to fill the earth. Sexual relationships among loving couples is God’s blessing to us. It was intended for a union between a man and a woman, a husband and a wife.
But in our generation it is shared beyond that relationship. I make no judgement upon people who need to find other sources of love. I believe that it is possible for men to love men and for women to love women. If love is true, shared, felt, and returned it is a blessing. Love that is unrequited, unfelt, unshared, leads only to human hurt and emotional distress and suffering. It is not God’s intention that man should suffer. He created us in His Divine image to participate fully in the act of love.
In our religion we are taught that deed supercedes creed. In Christianity the stress is upon creed, the need to believe, whereas in Judaism the emphasis is on the deed. It is not sufficient to say “I love you”. Rather we must demonstrate love. When love appears in our hearts let us recognize it, accept it and share it. Love is to be used but never abused. As love begets love so will our world be illuminated by the light of true love which only we can bring to one another.
God has given us His gift of love. Let us treasure it. Let us use it. But use it correctly, wisely and well.