What’s Love Got To Do With It?

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
(Koheles 3:8)

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.

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