As a kid, I was always asked, ‘how many Valentine’s Day cards did you get?’ It was the playground banter for the day. I can ask myself why this was important to 11 year olds in the 1980’s and I have no idea, but it was. Of course the more cards you received in the post or in school, the more popular you were, but it created a real sense of dread in the lead up to the day for everyone, just in case none came.
Of course our Mums knew about this and some people received loads of anonymous cards!
Today Valentine’s Day is big business – last year it was calculated that £855 million was spent here in the UK! People express their love to their beloved with cards, chocolates, gifts and presents.
Obviously tomorrow we read about the solidification of the Jewish people’s love for Hashem and His for us, with Matan Torah. The Midrash explains the whole passage as comparable to a marriage.
Hashem proposes: “Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples” (Shemot 19:5). The people accept: “All the people answered as one, saying, ‘All that Hashem has spoken we will do!’” (Shemot 19:8). The people cleanse themselves, as at a mikvah “Moses came down from the mountain to the people and warned the people to stay pure, and they washed their clothes” (Shemot 19:14). Then Hashem and the people join under a chuppah “Moses led the people out of the camp toward Hashem, and they took their places beneath [at the foot of] the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke, for the Eternal had come down upon it in fire” (Shemot 19:17-18). Then there is a ketubah: “Hashem said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and wait there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the teachings and commandments which I have inscribed to instruct them” (Shemot 24:12).
So we got married at Sinai. How do we therefore express our love to our Beloved. Gifts? Cards? Chocolates?
There was a fascinating book written in 1992 by Dr Gary Chapman called ‘The Five Love Languages’. In it, he argues that there are several ways to express love to your partner and that giving and receiving gifts is just one of the five.
What is fascinating is a realisation that the five love languages that Dr Chapman suggests for human love can be used to illustrate how we are meant to exhibit love to Hashem.
1. Words of Affirmation: Every day, three times a day, we express words of affirmation to Hashem, and in reality we can speak to Hashem at any time. Any loving relationship requires communication – tefillah is our love language to Hashem.
2. Physical touch: Obviously we cannot physically touch Hashem, but our observance of physical mitzvot is comparable. When we dance on Simchat Torah, shake the lulav on Sukkot or eat the Matza on Pesach we feel the touch of Hashem: ‘Each is a caress and a hug, each grasping another part of us, until every limb of our body and every facet of our lives is held tightly in His embrace, pulling us close in oneness from head to toe, enveloping all our being.’ Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
3. Receiving gifts: In any relationship one has to recognize the gifts that one receives from our beloved. Similarly, with Hashem, we have to realise on a daily basis what we receive from Him. I remember growing up, my mother (who has Multiple Sclerosis) had typed something up she had read in an MS magazine and put it on the fridge – I read it every day and it made a huge impression on me. It was called ‘Count my Blessings – what can I count?’ And it was a poem all about someone who was incredibly blessed, yet just couldn’t see it. The opening line of the people was ‘Count my Blessings! What can I count? And she stood up and gave the lie’. I realised then, that if my mother with MS saw her life as full of blessings and gifts from Hashem – then I had no excuse not to have that attitude.
4. Quality Time – When we get up to Heaven we will be asked ‘Kovea Itim la Torah’ did you set aside time to learn Torah? Our quality time with Hashem is learning His Torah, deepening our relationship. For those lucky enough, they can spend a year or more in Yeshiva or Sem – for the ultimate quality time. We need the time to invest in the relationship.
5. Acts of Service – Judaism is not primarily a religion of thoughts and ideas, but a religion of actions. As Rabbi Jonathan Dove used to say to us at University, ‘To do is to Jew’. Our acts of services are daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. A commitment to the cause takes time and effort and creates and enhances the relationship. Walking to shul, building a sukkah, koshering a kitchen – these ‘acts of Divine service’ bond us to Hashem.
One of the problems with modern day Judaism is people, especially young people, drifting away from Judaism and Torah. The reason simply, is that they either are no longer in love with Hashem or never were in love. A loving relationship with Hashem takes work and effort, a loving relationship with any human being also takes work and effort. We cannot expect people to love Judaism and love Hashem unless they are prepared to participate in the love connection.
If all of us increased our words of affirmation to Hashem, our physical connection to His mitzvot, our appreciation of His myriad gifts and spent quality time with His Torah and performed regular acts of Divine service – then our love for Hashem and His love for us would blossom and grow.
Maybe on the western day of love, we can focus on what love truly is between each other, and between us and Hashem and once we really understand what love is, both Divine and human we will also realise that…