Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Love to Give versus Love to Take

Love in Torah must not be construed for what the English version of the word "love" often means. For English love, as in "falling in love" or in "I love you", expresses the very opposite connotation. In Hebrew, as in Torah's commandment to love a fellow Jew, love implies - "wanting to give". In English, love usually implies - "wanting to take".

In fact, the middle letters of the Hebrew word for love, אהבה, means "give", הב.

Take the English example of, "I love fish". This love entails first to suffocate the fish, then skin, gut, filet, fry and eat it. This sort of "love" really means - "I want the fish for me". Hebrew love for fish would have meant throwing the fish back into the water.

The English use of the word love in relation to mating is no different. Here too the love usually centers on taking. "I love her" most usually translates to "She has everything I want".

Hebrew love is a love of wanting to give, like a parent who loves his or her baby. G-d's love for humanity manifests in having given people a life, free of charge. His love for His people and for people of righteous conduct further manifests in His giving them eternity!

Love of a fellow Jew also reflects this desire to give, as, for example, when Chabad chassidim reach out to secular Jews, trying to coax them into doing a mitzvah. It's a form of giving. Why? Because "when the left arm is itchy, the right hand wants to relieve the itch", as the Rebbe once explained it. After all, getting a Jew to do one mitzvah will draw him into doing another one, our sages assure us (Pirkei Avot 4, 2). And how much better off would we be were all Jews nestled into the warm fold of Torah and mitzvot.

In sharp contrast, the English love that implies wanting to take, should rather be called "lust", as in "I lust for her" or "falling for lust", which more correctly defines this emotion. (Which is why the word "falling", also, is indeed appropriate.)

And, just to be sure we understand the difference between the two, Ethics of Our Fathers (5, 16) carefully defines both loves. "Any love dependent on a specific feature, when that specific feature vanishes, the love ceases. But a love not dependent on a specific feature lasts forever." The love for a parent, for example, is a love of the Hebrew type. A love based on looks, on the other hand, is a lust rather than a love.

Love of a spouse is a Hebrew version of love and was aptly defined in the show, Fiddler on the Roof, where the husband asks the wife, “Do you love me?” She then proceeds to tell the various ways she gives him, or provides for him - “I wash your clothes, I darn your socks ... cook your meals... if that's not love, what is?

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