Thursday, February 17, 2011

“What is this thing called love?” “What? Is this thing called love?” “ What is this thing called? Love.”

The average dictionary contains nearly thirty definitions of the word “love.”  These range from mild affinity to deep and lasting attachment.  How does one find love?  Some posit that love is an uncontrollable force, that people “fall” into love, or are shot by Cupid’s Bow.  (One can only hope that Cupid puts the arrows back in the quiver once the marriage bells have rung. )

What’s the Torah view on love?  In Vayikra 19:18 we read, “And you shall love your fellow as you love yourself.”  Maimonides elaborates: “My compassion and love for my fellow with respect to his money, his person, his possessions, and his belongings, should be as for myself.  Further, whatever boons I wish for myself, I am to wish for him…”  This attitude is reflected in the Hebrew word for love: ahavah.  In Biblical Hebrew, the name of a thing reflects its essence and definition.  אהבה - love, contains the root word הבgive.  The prefix א stands for “I will.”  So all together, Ahavah means, “I will give.”
True, humans are born ego-centric, thinking only of themselves; part of maturation is learning to think about others and their needs.  Knowing this, it’s not surprising that the divorce rate in the U.S. began to rise shortly after the appearance of the “Me” generation.  A marriage is not about “me,” it’s about “we.”  Some argue that The Happy Marriage Is the ‘Me’ Marriage.  Maybe – if the “me” focus means that your partner is helping you become a better person.  The truth is, that selflessness is the key to finding, keeping, and relating to one’s spouse.  See The Grammar of Love for more.

So how do we feel more love?  Decades of research in clinical psychology show that the fastest way to change an emotion is to change the behavior attached to it (Psychology Today, Oct. 2010).  It all goes back to ahavah – I will give.  The more I give, the more love I will feel.  Professor Arthur Aron of SUNY-Stonybrook concurs, citing his studies that show that kindness is the strongest indicator of a successful long-term relationship.   
What is this thing called love?  Bittul, or selflessness.

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