11/18/08

FIVE Fall (in Love)

What’s love got to do with it? I am sitting with Dorit Bat Shalom, an old friend of mine, at a Café in the German Colony and we’re talking about our elderly parents and about our children (and her grandchildren) and about love. We’re both single – so it’s a hot topic. “You know, it’s funny, “she says, as she doodles with crayons, transforming the photo of the newly elected  Jerusalem Mayor, smiling on the front page of the daily paper into an oversized clown – “but when it comes to our parents – I don’t think that ‘love’ is the right word.” We’re talking in Hebrew and using the word “Ahava” – roughly translated as ‘love’ and as equally inconvenient as its English counterpart.  We use the same word to describe what we feel about a tasty dish, a great song, our mother, cat or lover. It’s not the same action or emotion, so why is it the same word? “The Torah doesn’t command us to love our parents”, Dorit says, “only to honor them. And God knows I try…”

Beyond the fact that I am thrilled to be learning Torah from Dorit, who grew up secular and not really into ‘religious stuff’, but found her way into deep spiritual, mythical and Jewish learning – I am also amazed to pause and think about this difference between ‘love’ and ‘honor’ – as action items in my life. How am I different when in dialogue with ‘other’ – be they my parents or the people I am trying (no luck so far!) to date, or the few friends who truly merit th auspicious title – ‘friend’.  That other auspicious  word ‘Love’ has become so trite and overused in our language (like ‘like’ or ‘God’) that it actually takes an effort to pause and ponder, seriously – when, on a daily basis – am I really experiencing ‘love’ and how is it different, if at all, from affection or plain fondness, and – the big one here – what does the absence of a lover in my life tell me about my ability to ‘truly’ love another human being? And what can I do about it??

And there it is, smirking at me – in this week’s Torah Re-run – the first mention of the word ‘love’ in the biblical cannon  and I’m looking closely for clues and inspiration, and words of advice from the ancestors.
Chapter 24 of Genesis concludes the Torah portion called ‘Chayei Sarah’  – and we got a happy end: Isaac meets Rebecca, out in the fields, and brings her home. The text is rich – it’s sunset, she arrives on a caravan of camel and swoons off of one into his arms, and Isaac “brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and took Rebecca as his wife, and loved her, and was consoled after his mother’s death’. (Genesis 24:67)

There is an obvious link between Isaac’s grief over his (recently) dead mother and his need and ability to find consolation in the arms of another woman – the next matriarch. Perhaps this is also the place between ‘honor’ and ‘love’ – he was only able to express the emotion knows as love when he was ready to honor his mother’s memory and let go of his mourning – his attachment to the past.  Isaac was 40 at the time of his marriage (Rebecca, say the sages, was either 14 or 3.. lets stick with 14, and anyway, I’m really focusing on him this time) so he had plenty of time to yearn for a suitable partner – and his love – so softly described – is perhaps a testament to the hope that such love and comfort are indeed possible.  Was it love at first sight? Did she love him also? We don’t’ know – but the text leaves us with the notion that Isaac, emotionally ready, ‘fell in love’.  I think that People fall in love when they are ready to change, or to start a new life, and Isaac, as this story shows – was ready to make room for the future – and to move on, beyond the past.

Maybe that’s the lesson here – love requires enough empty space on your hard-drive, and what’s blocking us – and perhaps blocking me, from making room for the dramatic reality of a loving relationship is a lot of ‘honoring’ of the past and not enough ‘loving’ of the present? Maybe that’s why it’s called ‘falling in love’ – it just kinda happens – when we’re really ready and not looking for it – not clutching, just being.  Just before this scene, the Torah tells us, Isaac went strolling in the fields – conversing, meditating, some say praying – taking time out to just BE.

Avram Infeld, sipping his tea,  hates the expression -‘falling in love.’ “It is a problematic Christian concept – derived from the view that sex – and mortal love – is sinful and the Fall from Eden is the Original Sin. We don’t have that expression in Hebrew – you don’t fall in love in Hebrew – you become more loving – and it’s a mutual act.”  We are sitting in the same café as the one I sat at with Dorit the previous day, talking Torah. Avram has been my mentor and friend for over 20 years – the man responsible for my career in Jewish Education. We have a deep love for each other – and I am honored to have earned his respect and trust. We say goodbye, hug and walk away, it’s sunset, and I’m smiling – it was a good conversation, a tasty sandwich, and I got good music on my brand new IPOD and I’m loving this present moment. It’s not capital L love – but I, like all of us, I guess, in one way or another, am always working on ‘it’.   (And keeping just one eye on the lookout for camels…)