Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What's Love Got to Do With it?

Generally we do not look to the Torah for guidance about love and relationships...and sometimes with good reason. However, in the case of our parasha this week, Parashat Vayishlach, we are provided with great food for thought about what love means and how it functions in our lives. The Torah text tells us that Schehem, the man who violated Dina, "loved" her after "taking her and...humbling her."

Genesis 34:2-3

ב וַיַּרְא אֹתָהּ שְׁכֶם בֶּן-חֲמוֹר, הַחִוִּי--נְשִׂיא הָאָרֶץ; וַיִּקַּח אֹתָהּ וַיִּשְׁכַּב אֹתָהּ, וַיְעַנֶּהָ. 2 And Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her; and he took her, and lay with her, and humbled her.
ג וַתִּדְבַּק נַפְשׁוֹ, בְּדִינָה בַּת-יַעֲקֹב; וַיֶּאֱהַב, אֶת-הַנַּעֲרָ, וַיְדַבֵּר, עַל-לֵב הַנַּעֲרָ. 3 And his soul did cleave unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel, and spoke comfortingly unto the damsel.

What does it mean that Shechem "loved" Dina? Does the Torah misunderstand love? Is it the best word that the Author could find with a limited Hebrew lexicon? To contend that maybe Schehem actually did love Dina in a legitimate way would make most of us furious. Nevertheless, we need to think about what the Torah is trying to communicate. What is good love and what is bad love? How do we apply this knowledge to our lives?

How does this love compare to that of Jacob who loved Rachel after seeing her only? How does this compare to the love that Abraham has for Isaac, the son he is willing to put on the altar? How does this love compare to that of Jonathan and David whose love was described thusly in 2 Samuel 1:23-26

כג שָׁאוּל וִיהוֹנָתָן, הַנֶּאֱהָבִים וְהַנְּעִימִם בְּחַיֵּיהֶם, וּבְמוֹתָם, לֹא נִפְרָדוּ; מִנְּשָׁרִים קַלּוּ, מֵאֲרָיוֹת גָּבֵרוּ. 23 Saul and Jonathan, the lovely and the pleasant in their lives, even in their death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.
כד בְּנוֹת, יִשְׂרָאֵל--אֶל-שָׁאוּל, בְּכֶינָה; הַמַּלְבִּשְׁכֶם שָׁנִי, עִם-עֲדָנִים, הַמַּעֲלֶה עֲדִי זָהָב, עַל לְבוּשְׁכֶן. 24 Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put ornaments of gold upon your apparel.
כה אֵיךְ נָפְלוּ גִבֹּרִים, בְּתוֹךְ הַמִּלְחָמָה--יְהוֹנָתָן, עַל-בָּמוֹתֶיךָ חָלָל. 25 How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan upon thy high places is slain!
כו צַר-לִי עָלֶיךָ, אָחִי יְהוֹנָתָן--נָעַמְתָּ לִּי, מְאֹד; נִפְלְאַתָה אַהֲבָתְךָ לִי, מֵאַהֲבַת נָשִׁים. 26 I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant hast thou been unto me; wonderful was thy love to me, passing the love of women.

This Torah story provides us with more questions than answers, but they are questions we need to ask ourselves and discuss with those we care about, especially our children. We should talk about healthy and unhealthy love, how to know the difference, and develop safe and fruitful relationships.

Shabbat Shalom