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Love After Hardship

We may think that the best time to talk about love is in the month of Nissan. Nissan is the month of spring, the month of the exodus from Egypt. But in the anatomy of the soul, love actually corresponds to the current month, Cheshvan.

What really happened to the love of Nissan? True, it all started out with great emotion, from the exodus from Egypt to Mount Sinai: “Draw me after you, we will run. The king brought me to his rooms…”[1] But at a certain stage, there was a serious crisis, and the blossoming love did not produce sweet fruit – eventually deteriorating to the Sin of the Golden Calf in the month of Tamuz and the breaking of the Tablets. The love of the Land of Israel also broke with the Sin of the Spies in the month of Av. And so, we reached the month of Elul, with a lot of rectification that needed to be done. With the abundance of festivals in the month of Tishrei the rectification did indeed bear fruit and all the sins were forgiven. On Yom Kippur, we received the second Tablets and on Sukkot the joy was complete.

Now, when all the bustle of the festivals is behind us, it is time for love. This time, however, it is not puppy love, but rather, mature, serious love. It is love that has endured crises and overcome them, a quiet, stable love. It is a love that can transform the bitterness of the crises to sweetness (as is alluded to in the name of Cheshvan, Marcheshven, “bitter Cheshvan”).

Light and Love

In the system of the sefirot and the powers of the soul, love is the inner dimension of the attribute of chesed (loving-kindness). We do acts of chesed out of love. Love is the first power of the attributes. On the upper level of the sefirot, there are the powers of the intellect (and other powers above and beyond intellect). But the emotional experience of man is primarily in the middle level of the emotions, comprised of the three attributes of chesed (loving-kindness), gevurah (might), and tiferet (beauty).

The first step is chesed and love. God created the world with the attribute of infinite chesed, and the first Jew was Abraham, who personified the attribute of chesed. Abraham is such a conduit of chesed and love that he is considered a chariot for the attribute of Divine chesed in the world. We can even say that God created the world by means of the unique soul of Abraham, as the sages explained: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth  ְּבְּהִבָּרְאָם (when they were created).”[2] “Do not read it as ְּבְּהִבָּרְאָם , say the sages, “but rather as באברהם(with Abraham).[3]

The word אהבה (love) is an acronym for אור הקדוש ברוך הוא (the light of the Holy One, Blessed Be He). Light is the first thing that God created, and it is the light of love. For without God’s love, creation cannot exist. In scientific terms, love is like the power of attraction that exists between any two entities, without which the world would disintegrate into chaos. Light is also connected to Abraham: Until Abraham came to the world, it was enveloped in darkness. Abraham turned the lights on and began to illuminate the world.

Jacob Saves Abraham

The Midrash says something surprising: When Abraham was thrown into the furnace, what saved him was the merit of the grandson who was destined to be born from him, as per the verse: “So said God to the House of Jacob, who redeemed Abraham.”[4] Jacob redeemed and saved Abraham from the furnace. What does this mean? Does this diminish Abraham’s great merit?

The explanation is tethered to the attribute of love. As we saw above, the initial love encounters difficulties and can break. It is beautiful and important to make fresh starts with great faith and great love. But will we manage to overcome the difficulties and decline along the way? Somebody is needed to prove that Abraham’s love can persevere through the murky waters of crises and hardship and survive the downward plunge. This is exactly what Jacob does. He deals with the crises and hatred and shows that his grandfather’s great light lives on despite all that has taken place in the interim.

It is not only romantic love that is in danger of crisis. Love for our nation can become extremely complicated, as well. We start out with simple, innocent love. But what happens when, for example, we see faults in others? Will we continue to love them? Now we have to work and achieve a deeper level of love, with the understanding that we are all one, and we all have unique qualities, as the Alter Rebbe writes in the Tanya: “One has to exert himself with all his heart and soul to tether the love of his friend in his heart.”[5]

At the beginning of the month of Cheshvan, it is customary to announce in the synagogue, “And Jacob went on his way.”[6] First, we are saying that now, after the festivals of Tishrei, it is time to proceed to the service of the routine days of the week. In addition, Jacob went out on his long journey and perpetuates the love of Abraham. “Give truth to Jacob, loving-kindness to Abraham.”[7] Jacob validates and eternalizes the loving-kindness of Abraham.

 

[1] Song of Songs 1:4.

[2] Genesis 2:4.

[3] Zohar 72b.

[4] Isaiah 29:22.

[5] Tanya Part 4, 22.

[6] Genesis 32:2.

[7] Micah 7:20

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