Today I was in Target when I heard a young child screaming, “crockhead, crokhead!” His very young mother (I assume it was his mother, though she looked young enough to be his sister) was with him. She looked down at him and reprimanded him, saying, “Child, you’ve got to learn to say your words properly. It’s CRACK-head. crackhead, not crockhead.”
ונפש יהונתן נקשרה בנפש דוד ויאהבהו יהונתן כנפשו
(שמואל א א׃יח)
OK, this post is not going to talk about the implications of this posuk for the Gay/Lesbian community. Maybe I will discuss this in another post. When discussing this posuk with my chavrusa, we got into a discussion about what the Torah means by “ahava”, or “love”.
I decided that an interesting project would be to look at how “ahava” is used in various places in tanach, and see if I could draw a conclusion. What I found is really interesting.
There is a concept when learning tanach that if one wants to know what a word means, they should look to the first place that the root is used, and use that context as a guide.
The first place that the root א.ה.ב is used is Bereishis 22:2 :
וַיֹּאמֶר קַח-נָא אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר-אָהַבְתָּ, אֶת-יִצְחָק, וְלֶךְ-לְךָ, אֶל-אֶרֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּה; וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם, לְעֹלָה, עַל אַחַד הֶהָרִים, אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ
“And He (God) said, ‘Please take your son, your special one, THAT YOU LOVE, Yitzhak, and go for you to the land of the Mountain Moriah, and bring him up their as an oleh offering on one of the mountains which I will tell to you.”
In the begining of this posuk, God is instructing Avram to bring his son as a sacrifice. Avram is confused, because he has two sons, and doesn’t know which son God wants him to take. So God tells Avram to take his “special” son. But Avram’s a good father, both of his sons are special to him. Then, God says “the son which you love” and it is this phrase that seperates Yitzhak from Yishmael.
The Torah is making pointing out that there is a distinction between that thinking of someone as “special” and actually loving them. In today’s world, when we talk about “our special someone” we are referring to the one person we love more than anyone else. But, apparently, our view of love is not the same as the Torah’s. Love is something more than just viewing someone as really special.
Besides for familial love, there is one other context in which the Torah talks about love. That is in the mitzvah of ahavas HaShem. The mitzvah is found in sefer Devarim 10:12
וְעַתָּה, יִשְׂרָאֵל–מָה יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, שֹׁאֵל מֵעִמָּךְ: כִּי אִם-לְיִרְאָה אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לָלֶכֶת בְּכָל-דְּרָכָיו, וּלְאַהֲבָה אֹתוֹ, וְלַעֲבֹד אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשֶׁךָ
Note that here, when the Torah tells us to love God, the phrase used is וּלְאַהֲבָה אֹתוֹ.
אַהֲבָה is a noun-love, as the thing love. But then what does וּלְאַהֲבָה mean? Technically, its, “And to love(noun) Him.”
This is confusing. We see from sefer koheles that there is actually a verb-infinitive of ahava:
עֵת לֶאֱהֹב וְעֵת לִשְׂנֹא
Why can’t the Torah also use the word לֶאֱהֹב? Obviously, God wants to teach us about what real love is, and what it is not. Love is not simply having much affection for something. When we say “I love chocolate brownies” we are not actually using love in the right way. There’s no doubt that Yaakov had ALOT of affection towards Yishmael. In todays terms, it would be called love. Yaakov loved Yishmael dearly. But, not according to the Torah.
So what can the Torah mean by “love”?
The answer, I believe, can be found in last weeks parsha, when the word ahava is used once again:
וַיַּעֲבֹד יַעֲקֹב בְּרָחֵל, שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים; וַיִּהְיוּ בְעֵינָיו כְּיָמִים אֲחָדִים, בְּאַהֲבָתוֹ אֹתָהּ
“And Yaakov worked for (or “with”) Rachel seven years, and they were in his eyes like a few days, in his love(noun) for her”
Yaakov’s whole focus, while in the house of Lavan, was Rachel. He worked seven whole years just to be able to marry her. Everyday when Yaakov went out to work, he knew the only reason he was doing it was for Rachel. He put up with Lavan for 14 years just to be able to marry Rachel. Yaakov’s whole life’s focus at the point was Rachel. Yaakov was “in love” with Rachel because everything he did, he did for her.
This is what I think the Torah is telling us love is. Love, true love, is when your whole life’s focus is the object of your love. Thats why Ahavas Hashem is a noun. It’s not a simple action. One can not just bring a korban and say, “OK, now I’ve fulfilled the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem” and then check it off his list. It doesn’t work like that. To love God means your whole life is dedicated to God. Everything that one does, they do for God.
This is what distinguished Avram’s relationship with Yishmael and Yitzhak. Sure, Avram adored Yishmael. He had alot of affection for him. It’s only natural-Yishmael IS his SON, afterall. But the difference is posterity. Deep down, Avram knows that eventually, Yitzhak is going to be the one to continue the family legacy. Avram, as much as he may “love” Yishmael, knows that his life’s work of spreading the idea of Torah Monotheism will be continued not by Yishmael, but by Yitzhak, the son that he loves.
A good friend of mine (you know who you are 😉 recently wrote a really thought provoking post entitled “ignorance is…creativity”. In it, she describes how when she first started learning gemara on her own, at around the age of 16, she was coming up with such wild and crazy chidushim that could never actually make sense in the larger scheme of things, but the served the vital purpose of allowing her to expand her mind.
I just spent the past 6 hours studying for a math test with another dear friend, “Danny”. Danny is somewhat of an atheist (he’s a little confused as to what he believes at this point), but more importantly, he’s a philosopher. He’s only 19 years old, yet he is brilliant beyond his years. Danny and I have the craziest conversations, that only someone as insane as I would understand, much less enjoy. Whats unique about Danny is that when I say something outlandish, instead of nipping it in the bud and explaining why it can’t be, Danny will proceed to expound on it, and develop the idea as if it was something that could and should happen.
For example, once I mentioned that someone I know was told as a child that God only gives people a certain amount of words, and once you use up those words, you won’t be able to speak anymore. Other people that I’ve told this too responded in one of two ways: 1. They said that it’s probably just illustrating how important it is for one to think about the necessity of their wordsds before they speak, or, 2. They try to convince me that this is impossible since God wants you to do certain mitzvot, like teffilla, that involve talking, every day of your life. Danny, on the other hand, just expounded on that and went on to discuss how much different our lives would be if we had to ration out our words, and asked if this would apply to the written word as well?
Danny thinks so much out of the box that I don’t even think he realizes there is a box. He hasn’t yet got to the level of comfort with the way of the world to become sedated in his musings. His thoughts are absolutely insane, but at the same time, insanely rational. I could sit and talk to him for hours about absolutely nothing, and at the same time, feel like a smarter, more intellectual woman.
What I wouldn’t give to see his thoughts for a day…