Vaetchanan: Deep Love

Love makes you into a superhero. 

There’s an old Chasidic tale about peasants arguing with each other about being in love. The first peasant complains to the other, “You don’t love me?” The second peasant then answers,“How do you know I don’t love you?” The first peasant continues and says rather irritably, “If you loved me, you would know what hurts me!”  The second peasant, a bit exacerbated now, says, “But you never tell me what hurts you! Isn’t that a sign that you don’t love me?” The first peasant sighs, “Oy, of course I love you.” “Fine, says the second, “If that’s how you feel about it, I love you too.”

This story makes me smile. 

It’s a tale of two people who go about their lives living implicitly and then one day, one of them turns to the other and begins an argument. They’ve gone months or years of knowing each other, but suddenly the energy shifts.  Here, at the moment of turning, one peasant changes the rules of the game by forcing their unspoken behavior to speak. At its heart the accuser claims that their friend is not making the impossible (reading another’s mind) possible. He or she is asking them to be a superhero. 

That’s what love does. It makes you into a superhero. 

Have you ever had a friend that is angry with you for something that you didn’t even know was expected? It’s happened to me so many times I can’t count.  Sometimes when you love someone, whether they are friends, family or community members, you want them to be a superhero. You want them to put on a cape and read your mind.  Many times when you love someone, you want to be a superhero too. You want to clear paths and rush to their aide. You’d stop bullets if you could.  

That’s what love does. Love makes you into a superhero.

Love’s kryptonite, however, is silence.  It’s that part of life where we want too much without being willing to give too much.  It’s that part of life where we say nothing when we are hurting because we expect others “just to know.” It’s also those silent times when we don’t ask after each other because we “just want to wait until they tell me.”  The silent part of life – the part that is unsaid but overflows with significance – is actually the most important part of love. It’s the part that we have to watch out for because if it stays silent and hidden then our relationships falter and even the most heroic lovers amongst us are doomed to fail. 

At its deepest expression, love is not just an emotion shared by people.  Love is not just a wedding with champagne, an Instagram hashtag and cheerful guests.  That is love. But love is also something deeper. Love is when you are tired and late to come home – again.  Love is when the kids are hungry and you just don’t feel like making dinner. Love is saying goodbye to your child as they settle into their dorm room. Love is taking the day off work to sit in the surgical waiting room.  Love is when you go to a funeral for someone you barely knew. 

Down in the deep fathoms of life, love is not just an emotion – it is an expectation.

When you love deeply you expect something of the person you love.  When you are loved deeply, something is expected of you. 

In Jewish weddings, there is a document called a ketubah. It’s a contract that outlines the responsibilities of each partner in the relationship. Whether it’s couched in ancient language or in modern sensibilities, the idea of the ketubah is the same.  Love cannot carry sacred relationships alone, actions do. Putting the ketubah on the wall is a testimony that you will try to make life happen with each other. It might not be perfect.  And honestly, it might not work out (and that’s okay, especially in abusive relationships). But you’ve committed to trying harder with this person than with any other – even when it hurts, even when you’ve done nothing wrong, even when you jeer and snarl – you’ve committed to trying. Deep love is there not because it makes you warm and fuzzy, but because there is an expectation that you are committed – I would say covenanted – to each other.  The ketubah reflects the depths of real love. 

Deep love makes you into a superhero. 

This is clearest in this week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan. The Book of Deuteronomy is itself a love letter written by Moses to a new generation, and in fact to every generation. (Deut 5:3) At the center of this deep love is the covenant, laid out in various ways throughout the text most notably with the words of the Shema, (Deut. 6:4) and the Ten Commandments. (Deut. 5:6)

In both cases, the mystical becomes the practical. The Torah moves from “Hear Oh Israel the LORD is God, the LORD is One.” to “Place these words on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” in just a few versus. (Deut. 6:-6-9).  Similarly from “I am the LORD” to “Do not murder” with remarkable speed. (Deut. 5:17)  In both the Shema and the Ten Commandments the “I love you” moments are few. In Deuteronomy, God’s deepest expression of love is manifested not with a hug, but with a nudge.  God does not just love you through grace, God loves you through expectations. 

God’s love makes you into a superhero. 

In the covenant, sentiment counts for something, but human activity counts for everything.  The divine expectation upon the human soul echoes Leviticus’ call to love, “Love your neighbor as yourself, I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 19:18)  Parenting, education, and moral relationships with other people are how we make the deeply divine love real. As the rabbis teach, one cannot be God, but only imitate the ways of God.  Just as God feeds the hungry, so too, you should feed the hungry, just as God visits the sick so should you. (T.B. Sota 14a). 

Deep love is not something that is simply said.  Deep love is something that is done. The gift of Deuteronomy is making what is unsaid, said. Through moral living, through making good choices, and sharing God’s love by loving others you can live an active life in Torah. Love makes you a superhero, and acting through the covenant you will know what it means to “Love God with all your heart, soul and might.” (Deut. 6:5)

Shabbat Shalom

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