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How to Love When Love Is Dying

How to Love When Love Is Dying


There are two kinds of love.

There is love from the womb. A parent, by nature, loves a child. Siblings, from birth, are bonded to one another. The love came first; the conditions are but an afterthought.

True, the flame may burn quietly. They themselves may not even recognize their love for one another. But it burns surely, uninterrupted. It may flicker, even hide within the coals, but it is there, always.

That is why you can’t divorce your parents, or your siblings, or your own child. Because with this love you were conceived, and with it your were born. And therefore it is not in your hands to extinguish.

Then there is the love between husband and wife. It was born long after this man and woman were born. And therefore, no matter how bright the flame and intense its heat, there are conditions by which it can be torn from its wick and disappear as though it never was.

That is why the Torah tells us about marriage first within the context of divorce. The Torah does not say to us, “This is how you marry—and if you must, this is how you divorce.” Rather, it says, “If you marry, but then must divorce, this is how it shall be done.” In the Talmud, too, the tractate concerning divorce precedes the tractate concerning marriage.

Because, to keep a marriage together, you need to know that even if the flame holds tight to the wick today and leaps and crackles, tomorrow it may untie its bond and vanish. Each day anew that bond must be reinforced, and the flame must be fed, fanned and treasured.

Yes, there are times when you must run from love, when even the Torah tells you that this wick must be broken, this bond of marriage severed.

But as long as those extreme conditions have not been met, hold tight to that flame. Even if you cannot find its warmth any longer, you still hold the memory of that love. Act with love, speak with love, ponder how that love first came to be, and relive that love. Shield it through every storm, keep it burning even as the oil is but a thin film that coats the lamp’s basin. Then, surely but gradually, the flame will burn deep inside until it reaches your very soul. And there it will awaken another love, a love that never died, as permanent as that of a brother and sister, but with the fiery intensity of husband and wife.

And so Abraham told Sarah, “Say you are my sister.” So that they bonded together in an essential bond, a bonding of souls that cannot be broken.

Their souls are brother and sister—and yet closer. If they can return to that place of oneness, a new sort of love will emerge. An unconditional love.

Because, in truth, the souls of husband and wife are brother and sister—and yet closer. Before they entered this world, they were a single being. Only as they descended to invest themselves within a body did they divide. If they can persist in their journey until they return to that place of oneness, a new sort of love will emerge. An unconditional love.

What is unconditional love? It doesn’t mean that there are no boundaries, that everything is okay and nothing must be resolved. Love requires fuel; love requires a haven from wind and storm so it can burn. Unconditional love simply means that no matter what, everything can be worked out. It means that at the core we are still one, so now let us be one at the periphery as well.

As still waters mirror the face that gazes upon it, so the heart of one person mirrors the heart of the other. Show unconditional love, and eventually you will receive the same.

On the two types of love, see Likkutei Sichot, vol. 20, end of p. 40 and following, and the references listed in note 25 there.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Anonymous NYC October 16, 2015

People Married To Abusers Or From Abusive Families Might Disagree WIth You Some people will never take responsibility for their behavior, rationalize and justify their cruelty while calling it love, and the only way to stop it is permanent estrangement. Giving unconditional love will not give you the same in return with that kind of person. No one owes someone else their soul. The answer to this situation is get out. Reply

Anonymous June 9, 2015

Sick Like maybe I'll eventually get the unconditional love on my death bed? Sounds like a raw deal to me. Try getting sick as a younger married man. Reply

Eva London March 16, 2015

question Rabbi Freeman:
Are you married? Is your marriage a good one?
Do you have any training in health or social work, that gives you expertise in relationships?
Does your special knowledge come from the fact that as a Rabbi, you are "holy" and therefore we must listen to what you say as if it was from Hashem? Reply

pistachio December 9, 2014

Scars of Slavery..........? I really do not understand that statement am I to understand how you are affected today by history taking place about three generations past..... I do not think that this would substantiate a cause for a relationship failure. Reply

Bracha Dallas,,Texas December 8, 2014

I'fe been asking this question since 2006.
Thanks for the answer.
Bracha Reply

Anonymous June 14, 2014

I have no way of knowing if ALL of you who visit this site are Torah observant or not. But my question is: What if one is striving to be Torah observant, and the other (though Christian) resents that pursuit of the other spouse? This has brought MUCH division in our home and we are hanging on by a thread. Of course, there were 'infidelity' issues BEFORE Torah entered the equation, so, we cannot 'blame' this new pursuit for the difficulty we have, but, it certainly hasn't helped the situation. Reply

Anonymous February 14, 2014

Like a previous person I never married or had children and I am 53 years old now. At this point in my soul journey I feel if I haven't met my 'soul mate' by now he ain't coming. I'm African American and somewhat bitter about the choices in quality men that African Amercian women are faced with. No wonder 70% of us are single beats being married to men who have limited education,criminal records,no sense of family,etc. I think the scars of slavery are too deep within African Americans for us to have loving,lasting marriages. Heck most of us don't even love ourselves let alone anybody else. Reply

doreet Eugene Oregon February 2, 2014

love. I probably cannot comment on this, I have never been married or had children. But if you are emotionally and spiritually well enough to marry, and try to work everything out in your marriage, it's a good idea. Single life is not very nurturing. And it is often lonely.however, there are number of us who have been scarred and damaged, and are not able to marry, and have a good marriage. I was engaged to be married twice, and I got out of it both times because I could see that it would not be very successful. So I had to be more realistic about whether I could do a good marriage or not.not all of us are able to do that. Reply

pistachio Peru December 29, 2013

to Ayuba True Love - requires no test and it cannot be tested.... it is an artifact and speaks for itself..... just like a number as opposed to a word... while the number is self defining, the word is a representation of something other than itself....
If you feel you need to test it.... well,,, that answers the question,, it is then Not True Love........... Reply

Ayuba Nigeria December 22, 2013

How do you test true love? Reply

pistachio Peru December 13, 2013

marriage is forever? I would like to think so but reality says this is not so. Of course, two people in agreement can develop a lasting and durable relation - one that evolves and improves over time however this would always involve mutual desire. Because two people are involved and if they are in contradiction of the future, and one is resentful and harbors ill will there can be no agreement and therefore the marriage abruptly ends / despite the two still living geographically under One roof. Sometimes relations end,, who knows if that is fated or not. Nevertheless there are millions of divorced and separated individuals who can attest to this. This is the Reality and the rest is hopeful imagination "marriage is forever" - I think not! Reply

Babydoll portsmouth va December 10, 2013

marriage is forever what ever you did to get your mate is what you are to do to keep your mate. sometimes babies are born, and it's all about the babies, but you have to still make time for your mate. Husbands ought to be loving their wives as their self. Wives should have deep respect for their husbands. done this way, when the babies grow up and move out you two still have each other, and your Love can continue to grow.
, Reply

Anonymous Pennsylvania, USA December 6, 2013

comment It's a very good point you make about how with siblings love comes first and conditions as an afterthought. I've often thought about how sometimes I could just throttle my brother - without that affecting at all how much I love him. The two exist almost independently. My love doesn't diminish my annoyance, but neither does my annoyance diminish my love. But with marriage it's like an organ transplant - the self is in permanent danger of totally rejecting the spouse. Just as an organ recipient has to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his or her life, a spouse has to - I believe - receive daily doses of blessings from above in order to keep the transplant functioning. Reply

Tzvi Freeman December 4, 2013

Re: Question "If husband and wife are one person, then what about a widow who re-marries - who is she one person with? the first or the second husband?"

Common question. The Talmud implies that the first marriage alone is the true match of souls. But the Ari, the master kabbalist, taught that sometimes a person must go through a marriage with someone else before being able to find his or her true match.

Basically, you can never know. Best to always assume that whoever you are married to now is your true soulmate. And even if not, the souls must be very closely related in their source above. Reply

Vincent Ontaro December 4, 2013

Thank you I have not been married nor divorced, but see the wisdom in this writing. The ending about unconditional love was precise - I plan to carry that to the next woman I am involved with. Let me just say I learned about boundaries the hard way and your definition of unconditional love is wise.

Thank you Rabbi Tzvi Reply

Anonymous Mercersburg December 4, 2013

Question If husband and wife are one person, then what about a widow who re-marries - who is she one person with? the first or the second husband? Reply

Anonymous Chicago, Illinois via November 28, 2013

To Fruma from Florida I have wondered about similar issues regarding soulmates. I was married before and divorced. Neither of us were Torah Observant. What caused us to separate, I believe, was our difference in values. He was content with coming home from work and watching TV. I felt frustrated by that and wanted something that had more value. I believe now that my soul was pained by not following a Torah path (at the time I didn't even know what a Torah observant, authentic Jew was).
I slowly, over a number of years, started a spiritual path, which eventually led me BH" to Torah Judaism. I gravitated toward
chassidus and (over 30 years ago) married a Chabad man. We have 3 grown children now.
I sometimes wonder, though, who is my intended partner? I don't have a sense of my husband being my "other half." But maybe he is and my view is distorted by all the "baggage"
that people carry around. Or could my first husband have been my intended partner but we weren't spiritually in a place to recognize that. Reply

zeynep November 21, 2013

Love to Shoshana, Jerusalem Your arguments about good character traits, having to put effort into marriage, focusing on the giving rather than taking I wholeheartedly agree with. But I disagree that all this is a 'choice'; I don't think that neither Love nor Devotion is a choice, but rather the Jew's deepest and most natural self-expression. The Jew's drama is to create the conditions in which to freely express her/his Essence; and this very much applies to the context of marriage.

I guess what I am trying to say is that we only should get married when we BELIEVE the person to be our soulmate; whether that in actuality is true is irrelevant and is something only G-d knows. This rules the very unhealthy thinking along the lines of 'compromise' and ensures a good start into a marriage. Whatever happens after that during the course of a marriage contributes to our mutual learning, growing and maturing and can even MAKE our spouse our soulmate, even if he/she wasn't in the beginning.

Thanks for straightening me out. Reply

meira Netherlands November 20, 2013

love If you love it is not a feeling about " I or ME" but all about we. If one considers love as being an I or Me thing, that love is meant to die because it is only an infatuation, lust or must-have. But if you love in terms of we, there will always be a wave traveling back and forth. Like I am you and you are me. Meaning that even when one is away the other will always feel his/her presence. This is not only a matter of responsibility but of a deep sense of loyalty and respect. That is why one can only love from deep within the soul, regardless of one's gender. Reply

pistachio Peru November 20, 2013

Love is a Choice... since when? Love is involuntary, you find yourself In Love, not having made a conscious decision. There is a reason it is called 'falling in love' because it is as if you stumbled.
Marriage is a choice and the substance of many Lawyers incomes,,,,, LoL! There is also the caveat: 'for better or worse' - seems to me that the two hold equal billing here.
and face it, no matter what,,,, a spouse is an 'inlaw' just as is your mother and father in law and subject to the same estrangements...... Reply

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