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It's Been Two Thousand Years; Can We Still Be in Love?

by Rabbi Eliezer Gurkow

  

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On Tuesday, July 24, 2007 -- the Ninth of Av on the Jewish calendar -- we commemorate the destruction of our ancient Temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed in the year 69 of the Common Era.

Jewish history is largely comprised of two segments, namely, pre and post Temple destruction. The first era is marked by miracles, prophecy and constant divine intervention; the second era is marked by exile, suffering and almost full Divine concealment.

The Diaspora has lasted nearly two thousand years, and throughout it all Jews have largely remained loyal to G-d and Judaism. What is the secret of this relationship? How have we maintained our love for G-d under such unfavorable conditions?

I believe the answer lies in the nature of our love.

The Mishnah (Ethics of the Fathers, 5:17) teaches that there are two forms of love: conditional love and unconditional love. I call them the ego-driven love and the soul-based love. Every relationship is capable of experiencing both forms of love; however one must come before the next. First we offer conditional love, and then, if our love is properly nurtured, we can progress to unconditional love.

All relationships begin with the ego-driven stage. On their first date, a man and a woman will naturally inspect each other with a critical eye. Each has a checklist of the qualities they desire in a potential mate. Each is prepared to invest in the relationship, but only if s/he can first determine that it will serve his or her needs. In short, they are prepared to give but only if they can receive in return. They are prepared to love but only if conditions are favorable.

The Diaspora has lasted nearly two thousand years, and throughout it all Jews have largely remained loyal to G-d and Judaism; why have we maintained our love for G-d under such unfavorable conditions?
I call this the ego-driven stage because ego nurtures self before others. Ego does permit nurturing of others, but only when it is self-enhancing. Ego does permit love of others, but only when it serves the needs of self.

At this preliminary stage the attributes of the loved one matter; they inspire the love. Should these attributes disappear, the love would naturally fade. In other words, at this stage the love is conditional.

Conditional love is possible in the first stage. True love becomes possible only in the second stage.

In describing this second stage, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi M. Schneerson, wrote, "it takes decades to develop true love between husband and wife. This is a love in which husband and wife feel as if they are a part of each other and cannot imagine being without each other."

At this stage, it is absurd to ask a husband why he loves his wife and vice versa; it's like asking the brain why it feels the arm's pain. The brain feels the arm because they belong to a single entity. Husband and wife feel the same way. Giving to the other is like giving to oneself.

At this stage the attributes of the loved one no longer matter. He or she may lose his/her beauty, wisdom or wit and would still be loved. Why? Because they have grown so close together that they cannot imagine life without loving each other. It would be simply inconceivable.

I call this the soul-based stage because only the soul can offer such unconditional love. The soul lives for others and derives pleasure from giving, sharing and caring. The soul does not require justification for loving. It does not love for a reason, at least not the kind of reason that appeals to logic. The soul loves simply because it does.

Rabbi Akiva and his wife Rachel enjoyed that sort of love. She encouraged him to travel to the yeshivah to study Torah. He acquiesced and studied for twelve years. Upon his return he overheard his wife telling a neighbor how proud she was of him and that if he would stay for twelve more years she would have loved him just the same; whereupon he promptly returned to the yeshivah for twelve more years.


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