What Is Love?

As I reflect upon this week's parsha, I wonder about the topic of love. In raising my son, Aviv, I have been struck at how he naturally appears to feel and experience love. When we look at each other - of course not all the time - I can see in his eyes the feeling that can only be described as love. Are human beings hard-wired for this emotion? That would surprise me, but I don't know how else to explain what I see in this nine month old human being. 

I ask the question, "What is love?" because it speaks to an important verse in this week's parsha vetchanan. The verse is famous because we recite it twice a day:

וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ
(Deuteronomy 6:4)

In this verse, what is discussed is the love of God. My sense is that love is more than an emotion; it's a complete disposition, a defining orientation. 

I can't discuss love without acknowledging the experience of unrequited love. This is one of love's most confusing dimensions. I would be inclined to define love as reciprocal, but unrequited love betrays that possibility. In our relationship with God, many might feel unrequited love. We love Him, but He does not love us. Feeling God's love for us is one of the objectives of our religion; we generally achieve it through the modes of study and prayer. 

In truth, the direction in which love is unrequited is usually God toward us. God's love is constant, but we are not always prepared to love Him. If we think of God as an unrequited lover, then perhaps we can invoke sympathy and motivate ourselves to seek to love Him. 

Love is described as powerful, and that is so when it's reciprocal, when it can generate energy from being given and received. Perhaps the key to loving God is what precedes Deuteronomy 6:4. 

שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה ׀ אֶחָֽד׃

"Hear O Israel..." (6:3).

The imperative of listening precedes the one to love. Without listening, love is not possible. Listening isn't however simply some sort of auditory function, it's an active method for sensing the world. Initially, when we listen, what we hear is silence. From within that silence, we then open ourselves up to love. The verse doesn't say: Love your job, love yourself, or even love your family or your spouse. It says love your God. The word "your" is key not because God belongs to any of us but because it expresses how God is directly concerned with each of us and how we live our lives. That concern is synonymous with His love. 

In many ways, the classic conversation, "Does God exist or does He not" is the wrong one. God's existence is irrelevant if He doesn't care about us. A God who exists but isn't concerned is a God not worth paying heed to. God's concern about how we live our lives is the expression of His love. Let us reciprocate His love so that it is not unrequited.