Valentine's Day is a holiday like Halloween that over time has been scrubbed of its religious origins and exists now as an annual national orgy of chocolate, flowers and cards with red hearts on them. However, its spiritual nougat center is love, and love is always worth considering.
I recently tried to explain why the New Testament command to love our enemies was, for me, a bridge too far. Thanks to the many, many of you who tried to help me understand that Jesus did not intend to mean love in the romantic sense, which would obviously be ridiculous. We cannot fall in love with the very people who have killed the ones we actually love. You tried to explain that the love referred to in Matthew was the Greek word "agape," which is a kind of spiritual respect for the godliness in all creatures. I agree with that, but the best English translation for agape is not love but respect. We must respect our enemies and treat them with fairness and justice. We must also be open to forgiving our enemies when and if they are truly repentant. Fairness, justice and forgiveness are not, however, love. They are fairness, justice and forgiveness and the command should have been, "Be fair to your enemy." If that is the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount, I join you in celebrating Jesus' teaching. It is not love but it is right. There is a rabbinic teaching that just as it is a commandment to teach what can be learned, it is also a commandment not to teach what cannot be learned. Anyone who has raised a teenager knows this is true. Teaching people to love the ones who have hurt us and broken our souls is cruel because it cannot be learned.
Now, on to one of the mysteries of romantic love that has always consumed me. When we love another person truly and romantically, are we losing ourselves in our beloved or are we finding ourselves in our beloved?
Tom Cruise's cinematic confession to Renee Zellweger in "Jerry Maguire" that, "You complete me" is the mantra for those who believe that what we lack as a person is finally provided through loving someone who has it. Poet Pablo Neruda said it this way: "I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close." Novelist Emily Bronte said it this way in "Wuthering Heights": "Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same."
I love my wife Betty deeply, but I do not love her that way. When I fall asleep, she is usually still awake doing crossword puzzles. I am part of those who believe that true love can only grow between people who are already complete and who love out of their fullness, not their incompleteness. I believe that D.H. Lawrence was right when he wrote (in an unpublished version of "Lady Chatterley's Lover"), "So it must be: a voyage apart in the same direction. Grapple the two vessels together, lash them side by side, and the first storm will smash them to pieces. This is marriage, in the bad weather of modern civilization. But leave the two vessels apart, to make their voyage to the same port, each according to its own skill and power, and an unseen life connects them, a magnetism which cannot be forced. And that is marriage as it will be when all this is broken down." Or, in the version of this truth written by Antoine de Saint-Exupery: "Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction."
I am sympathetic to the belief that we are completed through love, but the reason I am drawn in more fully to the view that we cannot love until we are first completed is that love requires first knowing who you are, which really means knowing what you need. Knowing these things takes wisdom cloaked in self-knowledge, and such wisdom is hard earned and takes time. I have met many smart young people, but I have never met a wise young person. Wisdom takes growing up, and one of the rewards of such growth is being able to truly love another person in a physically, emotionally and spiritually intimate manner. This growing gives you what Lawrence called "the courage of your tenderness."
This growing up enables you to understand Walt Whitman:
"We were together
I forget the rest."
How do you love?
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at email@example.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including "Religion for Dummies," co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)(c) 2019 THE GOD SQUAD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.