Our love for each other is a reflection of God's love for us
Of all the second-rank holidays that follow the big three of Passover, Easter and Christmas my favorite is Valentine's Day. I know it is a Christian holiday at root but so is Halloween and I love Halloween too. The combined joy of candy and trick or treating around your neighborhood that is suddenly transformed into a place of true communal celebration is enough for me to tolerate the spiritually suspect intrusion of ghouls and zombies. Valentine's Day is much like Halloween in that respect. It is about cards and flowers and, yes, more candy but, of course, it is mostly about love and that is enough for me because love in our world right now is in very short supply.
In the old days at school in Milwaukee, when Valentine's Day cards were exchanged in class, I was able to feel the first stirrings of love and that was a glorious feeling. Even the formulaic giving of flowers and candy as I grew beyond Valentine's cards has not over the years quenched my ardor for a day that despite its cliché goofiness remains a celebration of the highest human emotion and that is love.
There are several forms of love. Eros is romantic love. Agape is the form of love we hold in our souls for God. Philia is the form of love we have for dear friends and Storge is the form of love we have for our family. They are all types of love, but the self-emptying element of love unites them all. Love takes us beyond ourselves.
The main teaching of the Bible is that our love for each other is a reflection of God's love for each and every one of us. The Torah's commandment to love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:5) is the essence of Judaism's understanding of our obligations to God. We are created and loved by God and so we love God in return. The Golden Rule of loving others as we would like to be loved (Leviticus 19:18) is the bond that unites all the faiths of the world east and west. The commandment to love God and love our neighbors is taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as the two most important teachings of the Bible (Mark 12:28-34).
Love is the foundation of our lives as ensouled beings made in the image of a loving God. Love is the reason God gave us free will so that we could choose to love God and choose to love each other. Without free will love is impossible because we cannot choose anything. Free will makes love possible and love makes faith possible and faith makes a future for us all possible.
So, my Valentine's Day card to all of you, dear readers, is to love beyond flowers and candy and cards. Find a way to love others freely and joyously and without manipulations or expectations. Love the way Paul understood love in his letter to the Corinthians,
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now, we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:1-13)
Happy Valentine's Day!
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including "Religion for Dummies," co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)(c) 2020 THE GOD SQUAD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.