Q. What is Love?
A. "Well, what are emotions? Emotions are big switches and there are hundreds of these... if you look at a book about the brain, the brain just looks like switches... You can think of the brain as a big supermarket of goodies that you can use for different purposes. Falling in love is turning on some 20 or 30 of these and turning a lot of the others off..."Dr. Marvin Minsky, Professor of Computer Science at MIT
and a leading theorist of artificial intelligence,
as quoted in the New York Times / Science Times section, July 28, 1998
When G-d creates the human soul, He creates the male and female as one. But as the soul descends into this world, it divides into two - male and female. The complete soul is the combination of male and female. This is why males and females are so attracted to one another.Zohar Lech Lecho 204
Sometimes it strikes like a thunderbolt. Sometimes it develops only after years of courtship and marriage. But when it thrives, the love between man and woman is one of the strongest forces in the world.
What is love? This is a question that has tantalized poets and philosophers throughout the ages. Psychologists have tried to analyze it, and biologists have tried to dissect it, but the mystery still remains.
Indeed, it is impossible even to describe love. When two people are in love, the whole world seems different. Colors are brighter, sounds are clearer, tastes are more refined. Life seems to flow on a higher, more lofty, more spiritual plane. Something happens, but it defies description. To know what love is, one must experience it.
Love cannot be defined, precisely because it is such a unique gift from G-d. It is a very special feeling, unrelated to other human emotions. One does not love a person because of anything that person has or does - but simply because he or she exists. The Talmud expresses this in a very insightful teaching: "When love depends on another factor, then when the factor ceases to exist, so does the love. But when love does not depend on anything else, it never ceases to exist" (Avoth 5:16).
Pure love, then, does not depend on anything else. One does not love another person because of any quality that person has. True love does not expect anything in return, nor does it anticipate pleasure. Pure love is a wholly altruistic feeling, the pleasure is in giving, not the taking.
The Torah teaches that man and woman were originally created as a single, androgynous unit. G-d then separated the unit into two independent persons - man and woman. Thus, man and woman began as a single entity, and togetherness is their natural state. The love between a man and a woman is a result of their natural tendency to be one.
The love between a man and a woman can also be understood on a deeper level. When man was first created, the Torah says, "G-d created the human in His image, in the image of G-d He created them, male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27). Neither male nor female alone is in "the image of G-d."
When a man and a woman are united in perfect harmony, together they form the "image of G-d." G-d is the Creator of all things. Moreover, G-d's creation of the world is seen as an act of love and altruism. The only time a human being can emulate G-d as creator is through uniting with a member of the opposite sex. Then, just as G-d created life, they also can create new life. Indeed, at such a time they are, as the Talmud teaches, partners with G-d. This is why both man and woman have this desire to unite. When they do so, they manifest this "image of G-d." That is why love, in its purest form, is such a spiritual emotion.
Of course, just because love is powerful, that does not mean that it is supposed to be blind. Marriage is the most important decision that a person will make in his or her life and it is a decision that must be made with open eyes. One must know whom one is marrying and be certain that there are no faults that will doom the marriage to failure. Advice must be sought and heeded. But then, once the open-eyed commitment to marriage has been made, love gives it a powerful foundation. A couple in love when they marry build their marriage on the same foundation on which the entire Jewish nation was built.
But sometimes a marriage feels "right" even when there is no strong love. A couple may still feel that they should get married. In such a case, love can also grow after marriage. The love that develops after marriage is much deeper. It becomes a love where two people are totally sensitive to each other and where neither can imagine life without the other. It is a love that comes from building a family - and a life - together.
This paradigm also appears in the Torah. The first mention of love between a man and a woman in the Torah concerns the love between Isaac and Rebecca. The Torah says, "[Isaac] married Rebecca; she became his wife and he loved her" (Genesis 24:67). From this we learn that the longer Isaac and Rebecca were married, the more they grew to love each other. This was a marriage contracted at Abraham's command, through his trusted servant. It had been contracted not by passion, but by reason and judgment. This is true of many Jewish marriages, where parents, relatives or friends consider which young people are suited for each other and bring them together. If the marriage is inherently good, then the longer the couple is married, the more they will grow to love each other.
We thus see that marriage sets up a chain of events that affects all future generations. G-d created the emotion of love to serve as a foundation for marriage, thus making the bond between a man and a woman extremely strong. G-d's gift of love between a man and a woman is one of His greatest gifts to mankind. At the same time, it is a building block for society and the future.Adapted from the works of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan
Biography, p. 13
How would you respond?
1. You have spent years looking for a partner to spend your life with. In your mind you have developed a checklist of the type of a person you want to marry. Finally, you have met the person who meets the criteria. You go out over and over again only to be more impressed with the personality and compatibility of your new friend. Yet, something is stopping you from making that commitment. You're not in love! You're waiting for bells to ring but would suffice with a strong emotional pull. You just don't feel it. Do you give up the person of your dreams?
2. You've been married for over ten years. One morning, over breakfast, you look at your spouse across the table. You start thinking about all you have - wonderful children, a nice home, good community. There's certainly a comfortable feeling and a sense of shared purpose with the person who's sipping coffee. Yet, you wonder when was the last time the two of you really laughed together? When was the last time you did something spontaneous together? What happened to the passion you thought would never die? Is this what they mean when they talk about "mature" love? Or has the love been replaced with something akin to comfort? Should you open the Pandora's box and share your thoughts?
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