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The God Squad: To love is to risk, but it is the key to living

February 14, 2014|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Q: How do you define "love"? I know it's more than an overwhelming emotional response or being charmed, but I'm not sure what an appropriate definition would be. Can you help me out?

— J., Raleigh, N.C.

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A: This is a wonderful Valentine's Day/Beatles 50th Ed Sullivan anniversary question.

My favorite wordless definition of romantic love is what I look for when I interview brides and grooms in advance of the wedding day. If they touch and laugh, I know they are truly in love.

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My favorite wordy definition of love is from D.H. Lawrence, who called love having "the courage of your tenderness." My blessings of joy go out to all my courageously tender readers who still have someone to touch and someone with whom to laugh.

However, for Valentine's Day this year, I want to add a reflection about the connection between love and faith.

Faith expands our experience of love by teaching us to love God. Loving God allows us to see the universal power of love because it teaches us that all people, not just those we choose to love, are made in the image of God.

Love of God thus expands our capacity to love each other. The Hebrew Bible understood this by commanding us to love God (Deut 6:5) and by commanding us to use that love to help us love our neighbor and the stranger in our midst (Lev 19:18). Jesus knew these foundational Jewish teachings and made them the heart of Christian ethics:

"Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 22:35-40)

I don't want to ruin your Valentine's Day, but I feel compelled to move beyond dark chocolate to the dark gift of love, which is the pain we feel when those we love die. Love makes us exquisitely vulnerable to loss. I love the writings of C.S. Lewis on this point. His eloquence and faith are unsurpassed:

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.

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