26 Jul The Essence of Love
In his monumental work about midos (character traits), the Orchos Tzadikim, declares that love has the greatest potential to wreak havoc in a person’s life, more than any other midah. He gives concrete examples such as ahavas mamon, the love of money, which leads many people to a life of consistent dissatisfaction as millions of people are always pining for more and never satisfied with what they have. The love of money corrupts people and brings out the ugly side of humanity. Families have been fractured and friendships have been destroyed because of the love of money. Many people never get to enjoy life because of their insatiable love of money.
As another example, he cites the love of kavod, honor, which leads many people down the slippery slope of disaster. The love of honor is one of the most unwholesome motivations of humanity. Yet another example of the dangers of love is the love of the ‘other’ woman which has been the complete ruination of many otherwise successful men throughout history.
On the other hand, the Orchos Tzadikim points out that the converse is also true. When practiced correctly, love can bring a person to the highest levels to which a human being can aspire – the proper love of a spouse, love of our fellow man, a healthy love of oneself, and most of all love of Hashem.
What is the Torah’s understanding of the essence of love? Rav Eliyahu Dessler, Zt”l, Zy”a, quantifies love as a “career of giving.” He cites from the Zohar that the root of the word ahavah, love, is hav, which means “to give.” He says that contrary to the popular understanding that we give to the one we love, in reality it is the reverse that is true. We love the one we give to. Thus, says Rav Dessler, if a mother has two children, one healthy and one sick, she loves the child who is sick more because to that child she gives much, much more. It is for this reason that the woman’s womb is called the rechem, which is spelled with the same letters as racheim, meaning compassion, since it is the nine months of pain and discomfort which she gives to her unborn child that generates the motherly compassion for the child.
This axiom which Rav Dessler is presenting is actually a Talmudic dictum in Masechtas Derech Eretz. There, we are taught, “Harotzeh lidaveik ba’ahavas chaveiro, hevei nosei v’nosein l’tovoso – If you would like to cultivate love for a fellow human being, then do good things for that person.” This, in a nutshell, is Rav Dessler’s rule too. We love the people to whom we give. It is for this reason that when Mordechai and Esther wanted to promote harmony and friendship on Purim, they instituted, “Mishloach manos ish l’rei’eihu – Giving of gifts from a man to his fellow,” for nothing fosters friendship like the act of giving. It is interesting that many husbands and wives who want to try to love their spouse more think that they need to teach their spouse to do nice things to them and then they’ll love them better. In reality, Rav Dessler recommends that if we do more for our spouse that will cause us to love them more.
Digging a little deeper, Rav Dessler explains that when we give to a person often, they become an extension of ourselves. And, since everyone loves themself, they love the person that they give to as well. Rav Dessler then extends this theme to the declaration that we make in Krias Shema. V’ahavta es Hashem Elokecha – You should love Hashem your G-d.” Rav Dessler writes that we fulfill the command to love Hashem by giving him as much Torah, mitzvos, and good deeds as we possibly can. These are the best expressions that a Torah Jew can make to show his or her love to the Almighty.
May it be the will of Hashem that we succeed in all areas of love and in that merit may Hashem shower us with His love, and grant us long life, good health, and everything wonderful.