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What Is Love?

What Is Love?

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Why Do We Ask, “What Is Love?”

Whenever we ask, “What is love?” it’s usually because a) we’re unsure if a certain special someone really loves us, or b) because a certain special someone just accused us of not really loving them.

When we are truly engaged in giving and receiving love, we don’t ponder such philosophical questions. It’s only when something is lacking that we begin to analyze and contemplate what that thing actually is. For example, nobody sits down to a full meal and asks, “What is a pastrami sandwich?”

It’s only when something is lacking that we begin to analyze and contemplate what that thing actually isSo, if we’re even asking the question, “What is love?” it probably means that we don’t feel completely loved, or that someone doesn’t feel completely loved by us.

But since we’re asking, let’s try to answer the question.

“Am I Loved?” Vs. “Do I Love?”

The two scenarios that usually cause us to contemplate “What is love?” give meaning to the question. Either we wonder, “Am I loved?” or we ask, “Do I love?”

It is easier to first address the “What is love?” question in terms of the love we feel coming toward us. If we understand how to recognize when we are being loved, we can also learn to recognize our love for another.

When we are loved, we tend to feel it intuitively in our guts. But how does it work? Is there an extrasensory perception in the heart that is able to read the feelings in another person’s heart?

In fact, it’s really not that ethereal or supernatural. On the contrary, it’s pretty practical and down-to-earth. Our hearts take cues from our senses. Everything we see, hear, taste, touch or smell teaches us about our universe. We don’t need to contemplate or ask questions. Our sensory organs report to our brains, and our brains interpret the data and send the report to our hearts. So, if we see a loving smile, hear loving words, or feel a loving touch, the brain processes this information and concludes, “Hey, we are being loved right now!”

In short, when we are loved, there is tangible proof. It’s not an abstract thought or feeling, it’s concrete and evidenced. As King Solomon wrote in his book of Proverbs (27:19), “As water reflects a man’s face back to him, so is the heart of one man to another.” This means, when you are treated with love, your heart feels that love.

Love is an Action

Now we can address the second part of the “What is love” quandary—how to know if we love someone else?

The answer is straightforward. When we behave lovingly towards someone, it means we love that person.

When we ask a question like “What is love?” we assume that we’re trying to define an abstract concept similar to “What is freedom?” or “What is good fortune?” But truthfully, love is not a concept. It’s an action.

To ask, “What is love?” is like asking, “What is running?” or “What is swimming?” If you’ve ever seen someone run or swim, you know exactly what running and swimming entail.

In order for love to be real love, it has to be expressed as an actionThe Hebrew word for love, ahavah, reveals this true definition of love, for the word ahavah is built upon the root consonants h‑v, which means “to give.” In order for love to be real love, it has to be expressed as an action. If you love your beloved, then you must show it. By the same token, if you are loved, that will show, too. You will recognize it by the way you are treated.

G‑d Teaches Us How to Love

G‑d commands us (Deut. 6:5), “And you shall love the L‑rd your G‑d.” This precept leads us to voice the age-old question, “How can we be commanded to feel a feeling?” Either you feel it or you don’t, right?

An answer offered by our tradition explains that we are not being ordered to feel a feeling in the abstract sense. Rather, the command is for us to behave lovingly. In this light, “And you shall love,” actually means, “You shall perform acts of love.”

This is the true test: action, deeds, performance.

Feelings can be deceptive. Sometimes, what we perceive as love may in fact be another emotion. But actions cannot be mistaken. So, rather than ask, “What is love?” we must ask, “Do I perform acts of love for my beloved?” and “Does my beloved perform acts of love for me?”

Rabbi Shais Taub is a renowned speaker and noted scholar on Chassidic philosophy. He is the author of G-d of Our Understanding: Jewish Spirituality and Recovery from Addiction. He and his family make their home in Pittsburgh, PA.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Michael Davis Houston August 16, 2017

Love is the heart's expression of our soul. Reply

Anonymous Miami August 10, 2017

Ernesto from Hawaii Maui

That's true love is everything and that person who love someone else like us example someone falling in love with you that feeling like when heart is bepin that pressure and love comes buetyful things Reply

Sara Oxnard CA July 17, 2017

The word love is much wider than just the feeling for one person. There are different kinds of love. The love for God as you understand who he is, paternal/maternal love that can grow dipper as time goes, love for children, pets, self love and so on. But love is patient, unselfish, giving, forgiving, unconditional but with healthy boundaries. True love doesn't heart others and self love does not allow others to keep hurting self. Love matures with time and there is always room to love others without discrimination. Reply

Sylvie Chicago June 14, 2017

What saddens me greatly is watching my friends hunting for husband or wife because the so called "clock is ticking" By the age of 31 I have witnessed so many weddings where I set there wanting to get up and scream "no" "stop" "do you not see that neither one of you don't even respect each other. That this more of a "we don't want to be alone" I have so many friends who got married & are already divorced. No 1 time from the bride 2 be i heard "I love him it makes my day when I do little things 4 him that put a smile on his face" instead I hear "I'm use to him, he is not so bad, he has a good job etc." Love rarely comes up. When i talked my male friends not once not ever did i heard I love to see how happy she is when I make her breakfast in the morning. Instead I heard "she is not that bad it's time 2 settle down have kids etc." So where in all this is the love? Then comes divorce. Our society sets the norm almost a must "get married, have kids" no where in that "norm" love plays a role. Reply

JDV June 15, 2017
in response to Sylvie:

Yes, the biological clock is a factor! So much for gender equity! Reply

Anonymous 2340 June 8, 2017

One way to get a sense of why love should matter so much, why it might be considered close to the meaning of life, is to look at the challenges of loneliness. Too often, we leave the topic of loneliness unmentioned: those without anyone to hold feel shame; those with someone (a background degree of) guilt. But the pains of loneliness are an unembarrassing and universal possibility. We shouldn’t – on top of it all – feel lonely about being lonely. Unwittingly, loneliness gives us the most eloquent insights into why love should matter so much. There are few greater experts on the importance of love than those who are bereft of anyone to love. It is hard to know quite what all the fuss around love might be about until and unless one has, somewhere along the way, spent some bitter unwanted passages in one’s own company. Reply

JDV Paramus June 2, 2017

It's a shame we all want love but so few know what it is! Reply

Anonymous Tadley June 1, 2017

If the love you feel isn't unconditional then is it really Love? Do you love someone who irritates you or makes you angry even if at other times they can make you laugh? If you can imagine life without them do you still love them?? Reply

kasumi tokyo June 15, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

i wonder that too Reply

k June 27, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Codependency is not conducive to love. Reply

Kia Sipp Summerville, SC April 25, 2017

Love is keeping your own commitments and writing daily about just one instance that you enjoyed daily. Reply

Anonymous United States March 13, 2017

If you have a relationship, you'll be granted with a glass. That glass is used on how much you've done on your relationship. You put sand whenever you encounter the best memories of your relationship. This quote below describes of what love is.
"Love is like a glass of sand, the more sand you have in the glass describes on how great the relationship is. But if that relationship ends, that glass will break causing sand to pour out of the glass. No matter how hard you try to stitch it up it'll never be fix. However if you did fix it, it doesn't matter because there are aplenty of sand that poured out. The excess sand represents thorns in your heart, no matter how hard you try to forget about the person It'll always prick you forever." Reply

Victoria Poland February 23, 2017

My father died when I was a few months old, and my mom remarried four years later. My step-father adopted me. And I was brought up with all the love and understanding a kid could ask for. Than due to my mom’s serious problems with heath, they have to use service of reproductive center in Ukraine. Thanks to Biotex clinic I have my little brother now. My adoptive father was always extremely understanding of my loss. When he adopted me, he insisted I keep my father's surname. He took me to memorial services on my biological dad's birthday. He has told me numerous times that he knows he can't fill my father’s shoes in raising us, but he can keep me safe and treat me well as a service to my father's memory. When I was sixteen, told my adoptive dad that he didn't have to do all those things anymore. He is the only father I have ever known, and I love him unconditionally. I told him he didn't have to do homage to the memory of a man he never knew. He said, "I want to remember him for your mot Reply

Siya Hyderabad January 29, 2017

What is true love I am confused because love is something we should not take in return and other side is actio. What is it done . Is it an action or getting in return or waiting to get same love expect same love what we give... Reply

Isabella December 21, 2016

Wow So in order to know we feel it we then act on it by being loving in a certain way that makes so much sense. Reply

Anonymous New York November 22, 2016

I'm lonely. What if I don't have a beloved? Reply

Austin Brightworth johanessburg April 6, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Hopefully someday you'll find the one you're looking for, the one who will treat you right and love you more, someday you'll see the love you're destined to be, and whenever that time comes. I hope to see you happy!

Reply

Arik September 25, 2016

Love results in actions of giving and actions of giving strengthens love, but why does it entail that they are rigorously the same? For sake of simplicity and conciseness, I believe the topic was oversimplified. What difference is their between a love which is only felt "at first sight" and the one that is developed over time? Are they both love ? The rabbi suggests, if I understood correctly, that love, in essence, is the action of giving. However, I would like to argue that if one gives without knowing to whom he gives and why is not love. Otherwise this would imply that, regardless of the motives, when it is said “to love G-d”, then as long as we give, we are loving. What if I “give to G-d because of all the punishments he inflicted on a man that I hate”, how could this mean to "love G-d" ? Love/Give to a woman only for her looks although she is unethical? Plenty examples. “What is love” is mostly asked when wanting to know if one met his wife/husband (true love). "Don't ask, just give" is I believe a good start but insufficient. I may have misunderstood the Rabbi, but one needs to know and understand before lov Reply

sosick myrie Jamaica September 8, 2016

Love it a kind of sharing. Its a blessing from above that hold two hearts together in loyalty and caring. Reply

Kia Sipp Summerville, SC August 26, 2016

What is Love? Love is sharing time and space. Reply

u.s. varanasi August 23, 2016

Love in single sentence is free from any kind of desire Reply

Amanda August 22, 2016

I love someone but I don't know. If he loves me.. Mixed signals Reply

Kemael Ben Israel TEXAS July 21, 2016

True love is unconditional. .....no give and take, no tic for tat, on strings attached. ..just pure acts of kindness Reply

Lupeace July 20, 2016

love Love is a strong feeling that a human being cannot describe or define or explain ... Reply

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