Love is a choice
Weekly Jewish Wisdom
By Dr. Erica Brown
"Love rarely finds the one encased in armor." -Rabbi David Wolpe
This week, people around the world celebrated Valentine's Day, a day named after a saint from the days of ancient Rome who married couples illegally at a time when military conscripts were not allowed to take wives lest it distract them from war. While Jews traditionally don't celebrate holidays devoted to saints, we do have a lot to say about love.
Jew have never believed that marriage is a distraction. It is a fulfillment of divine will that a person not be alone; God comments on creation in Genesis 2 that "It is not good for man to be alone." In Genesis 1, we hear repeatedly that the world God created was good. Only in this aspect of God's evaluation did the world fall short. Marriage is an important state of companionship and stability. Maimonides writes that the way that we learn to love God is through the way that a man loves a woman. Rabbi Elazar Azikri wrote a beautiful poem called "Yedid Nefesh" - "Beloved of the Soul" that is sung in many synagogues on Friday night that describes human lovesickness for God using romantic terms.
Rabbi David Wolpe, senior rabbi at Temple Sinai in Los Angeles and an important voice for faith in America, writes above that love requires us to let go of our defenses and the protective shield we may put around ourselves. He shares his insights in Why Faith Matters about conducting worship services for singles who hope to meet someone within a spiritual setting:
Neither I nor anyone else can tell with certainty who will be successful. But I can usually tell who will not. A sullen attitude, a lack of excitement about oneself and others, an unwillingness to listen - all these are almost foolproof indicators that the individual will leave alone.
But his thoughts about love's armor don't apply to singles only. They apply to all relationships where we hold back our love. An insult that stings our pride may make us icy, frozen to the needs of someone else or unable to offer compassion to another. We may restrain our emotions to such an extent that others don't know what we truly feel about them: our children, our parents, our partners, our friends. A wise older rabbi once told me that a man came up to him who had just buried his wife and at the funeral confessed with tears that he had never told his wife that he loved her.
In Deuteronomy, we find a verse that confirms Rabbi Wolpe's sage words: "The Lord will open up your heart and the hearts of your offspring to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, in order that you may live" (30:6). Love allows us to live. Passing down love to the next generation allows them to live fully and richly. The term in Hebrew that is used is perplexing. The verse literally states that God will "circumcise your heart." It sounds painful, but what it means is that God will create a small opening in our hearts.
Love is not only a state of being. It is a choice. We can open our hearts and make that small incision bigger and more expansive. We can let go of our armor and love more fully and with greater vulnerability. But we can also close our hearts and stop up the small hole. Love is a decision. Open your heart.