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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.
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Discussion (115)
May 16, 2016
I got it. The article is brilliant
After writing out my answer the other day - about ahava coming from hav meaning to give - other questions emerged. But then I reread the original article and found the Rabbi had answered all except for possibly one question.

The Torah says to "love thy neighbor as thyself." So I figure I am to love everyone. I sure know how wonderful it feels when someone loves me deeply in caring about my life. It motivates me. And so it makes sense that through my love that I help motivate others. But am I not to be discerning? Isn't this a way to set myself up to being a sucker. And what of someone truly evil (is that possible?) Am I to love the truly evil ones? Or in terms of psalm #1 where it says to stay away from bad people, should I love them anyway? And Yonah treated with love the Ninevites. I ask for I am willing to change my life in how I love and treat others.
Stuart (Noam) Leviton
Baltimore
May 13, 2016
The etymology of ahava (love) is hav (to give)
Exactly my friend in Michigan. The Hebrew word for love is based on the word "to give." That is why the xtians needed translate "love" as agape (don't worry. I'm Jewish). Hebrew terms differ from their Western counterparts such as ahavah having something to do with giving and relationship as opposed to a story about cupid flittering about flinging arros into us and that poof we are in love. And I wish to write a book about the beauty of Hebrew words and how Jewish culture does differ from the Western. That is why I am interested in understanding the Jewish concept of love.

A quick example: the Hebrew term raham) translates as compassion. Its root is rehem which means "uterus." In Judaism, compassion is about protecting and nurturing the other as does a mothes uterus protect and nurture a child. The Western term compassion may or may not be the same as the Hebrew term though it is based on the word "passion", feeling. The Hebrew word is more than a feeling. It is a loving action.
Stuart (Noam) Leviton
Baltimore
May 12, 2016
One other thing I wanted to add to the comment below......It is most interesting Mr. Leviton that you should mention the lecture about the root of the Hebrew word for love, meaning..."to give." I was not aware of this. However, the definition of love that God revealed, contains those two words. Very interesting.
Anonymous
Michigan
May 11, 2016

Love is not the opposite of its opposite, for love is the opposite of nothing. This does not mean however that nothing is the opposite of love, for there are many things which are its opposite, but they all stem from one primary thing. And yet this one primary thing is exactly the same thing as love, and although love is not its opposite, it is the opposite of love.......Make sense? I commented below that since God was the one who created the word love, he therefore is the only one who really knows what it means, along with those he has revealed it to. At some point in the near future, I will have written down what I was told to write......things that have been revealed, along with God's definition of not only love, but wisdom, understanding and pride. When it's completed, and either published or posted online for free, I will let you all know for anyone who may be interested. The information it contains aligns perfectly with the Bible and did in fact come from its author. It is likely to give you insight into yourself that you have never had before.........after all, that's what God does best.
Anonymous
Michigan
May 10, 2016
What is love
I thank everyone for their submissions and assistance. I found a real good lecture the other day by Dr Lisa Aikens on Torah Cafe about the Jewish view on love and intimacy. (you can google that to get to the lecture). The lecture helps me understand why the root of the Hebrew word for love means "to give." And the lecture helped me understand how the Jewish view on love and intimacy is quite different from the Western view.

For example, in the west it is acceptable for two people to have intimate relations fairly shortly after beginning to date undercutting the relationship for the couple is not talking. Slowly the couple drifts apart. But in a frum relationship, declaring the woman in a state of spiritual replenshing between when she menstruates until she goes to the mikvah actually gives the relationship time for talking which Judaism insists upon. In that way, the relationship tends to mature improving the chances of a good marriage. Plus, the man is commanded to give to give.
Stuart (Noam) Leviton
May 8, 2016
Is it possible love is just a word we take advantage of so often not really knowing how to express the feeling or caring to express it?
marvin liggett
alabama
April 30, 2016
true love is eternal infinite and always like itself it is equal and pure without violence demonstrations. It is seen with white hairs and is always young in the heart.
Nancy Brown
April 11, 2016
I have so much love for my fiancé. I'm being treated like I'm not being loved back sometimes now since I've read this....
Anonymous
Dunn
April 10, 2016
I don't think you can turn it on or off it is most definitely a feeling that comes from within and with meaning from the heart!
Lee
Houston
April 5, 2016
Love is unexplainable
Anonymous