“We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine.” (Song of Songs 1:4)
My wife and I enjoyed, along with countless others, a celebration of Valentine’s Day with a card, dinner and a movie. Many of you I hope were able to attend the Valentine’s Day dinner at the church on Friday evening. If the day did nothing else it centered my thoughts on love and its parameters.
The celebration of Valentine’s Day originated as a remembrance of a martyred Catholic priest in Rome named Valentine who, accounts say, defied the edict of Emperor Claudius, which forbade the marriage of young couples in order to save the men for more focused military use.
Valentine married young love birds anyway and was thus beheaded on February 14 in the year of AD 269.
Like most holidays, this celebration has turned into a marketing boon of mass-produced sentiment sold as cards, teddy bears and chocolates. But love is much more than can be tasted with candy or seen in the movies and read in a romance novel.
I believe there is no better place to begin searching the search of love than in the Scriptures. So first a little look at the Hebrew language.
The Hebrew language, which may be the most ancient of languages – so ancient, perhaps, that the Bible describes the creation of the earth using this language – can give us great insight into the meaning of love.
In fact, much rabbinical interpretation of the Bible comes from observing the relation between root words. For instance, the Hebrew word for love is ahava, which is made up of three basic Hebrew letters: aleph, hey, and vet.
From these three root letters of a-hav-a, we can discover two root words.
The first is hav from two letters hey and vet, which means to give. The letter aleph modifies this word which means I give, but ahav is also the Hebrew word for loved.
The Hebrew word, therefore, contains this tremendous truth: giving is fundamental to loving.
The love relationship between a husband and wife is to be that of giving – each to the other. The more we invest of ourselves in our partner, the stronger the connection and the deeper the love. This entails words of affirmation, acts of service, giving gifts, physical touch, and the giving of quality time (The 5 Love Languages).
Another Hebrew word for giving is natan, which is spelled nun, tav, nun. This word reads the same backward or forward. Thus, this Hebrew word for giving suggests the essence of what giving is all about. When we give we always receive in return. This may be seen as a loving circle that enhances any love relationship.
Many of us wonder if there is really something called love at first sight. Certainly there are instances of this in the Bible.
Five examples are Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:20-23), Rebecca and Isaac (Genesis 24:64-65), Jacob and Rachael (Genesis 29), David and Abigail (I Samuel 25), and David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12). These are cases which show that intense initial love can mature into a more rooted love.
Before Rebecca even saw Isaac she had committed herself to him. At first sight of him, she explained such intense feelings of love that she nearly fell off of her camel. In having already bound herself to him beforehand, her soul was able to recognize (know) him as her true soul mate even before they had actually met.
But was it real love or a kind of knowledge based on a fantasy of what could or should be? Jacob apparently had such an accurate perception of Rachael that he had real knowledge (da’at) of her beforehand. Conversely, in the case of David and Abigal, David was not prepared, did not have foreknowledge and, therefore, experienced a love devoid of da’at.
But her wisdom and charm succeeded in calming his emotions, creating a situation where his approach to their relationship was guided by da’at. However, with Bathsheba he acted impulsively, having her husband killed so that he could marry her. This represents the lowest level of da’at in respect to a relationship.
Still, love at first sight is certainly the exception rather than the rule. Sometimes the more impetuous an initial love, the more difficult it is for it to form roots. Intense initial feelings can lead to difficulties in stabilizing the relationship afterward.
Nevertheless, no matter how love begins, with a fire and lightening or slow and steady effort, it can develop and grow roots.
True love is more than a cocktail of hormones and desire. It emanates from the soul. It is transcendent, linking our deepest self to God and those around us. This demonstrates the soulful nature of love, one that is selfless and giving, the true love or “ahava.”
The rabbis speak of different forms of love.
The “watery or calm love” is the love we have for a brother or sister while that which we share with a spouse is characterized as “fiery love.” This form of love must be kindled through acts of giving and sharing of one’s self.
True love is not so much the Hollywood version of “falling in love” as it is one of “giving love,” a soulful, personal act of true giving with less concern for receiving.
We also see the connection between love and giving in the character of God. Although none of us can out-give Elohim, we are definitely meant to emulate Him!
Moses taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Yeshua (Jesus) repeated this, noting it is second in importance to loving God. (Leviticus 19:18 Mark 12:31)
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)"