A RELIGION OF LOVE
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)
If you grew up when I did, you probably remember the book and movie Love Story. The book, published by Erich Segal in 1970, was a bestseller. The movie based on the book, released in the same year, made stars of Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. They play college students Jenny and Oliver from opposite social economic backgrounds who fall in love and marry. They then must deal with tragedy as she contacts cancer. (This is not a spoiler; her death is the first line of the book.)
If you remember the book and movie, you also probably remember the key line – “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” It is #13 in the American Film Institute’s list of greatest movie quotes. It sounds wonderful to love, without ever having to apologize. But is it true? To answer that question, we must talk about love.
I often hear that Christianity is a religion of love while Judaism is a religion of law. Certainly, Christianity has some beautiful quotes about love. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (I Corinthians 13:4). But Judaism also has beautiful quotes about love. The Talmud teaches, “When our love was strong, we could have slept on a bed that was the width of a sword. Now that our love is not strong, a bed of sixty cubits is not sufficient for us.” (Sanhedrin 7a)
This week’s portion speaks of the commandment to love, a verse Jews recite as part of the Sh’ma each morning and each evening. Love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might. But this is followed by a long list of obligations. We must speak of this this love when we lie down and when we rise up. We must teach it to our children. We must bind it on our hand and on our heart (tefillin). We must write it on the doorposts of our house and upon our gates (mezuza). This brings us to the heart of the Jewish view of love. Love is not simply about inner feelings. Love comes with actions. Love is tied to law, it creates obligations.
That brings me to Love Story. If we wronged someone we love, we must take action. We must apologize. Love always means having to say you’re sorry. Love without action is not true love. We must demonstrate our love, not only by how we feel but what we do. The beauty of my tradition is that love is always tied to action, love to law.
In my career I have preformed hundreds of weddings. Let me share the thought I have shared with the bride and the groom in almost every one of those weddings. What is love? Love is when you look into the eyes of your partner and ask the question, what does my partner need? How can I meet those needs? How can I make the life of my partner happier, healthier, more successful. Love means knowing your partner and then acting. Love is not about what you feel but what you do.
In America we worship feelings. Our inner feelings are of ultimate importance; actions do not matter. That is why the line is so popular in America, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” If you feel in love, that is all that is important. In Jewish tradition and also among many Christians, love is not about feelings but about actions. It is not what we feel in our heart but what we say with our mouths and do with our hands. It is a lesson that we learn from this week’s reading of the Sh’ma.
With that in mind, I recommend the following. If there is someone who you love with all your heart, a spouse or partner, family member or friend, and if you have wronged them, say you are sorry. Give them a call, send them a text, write them a note. Love means always saying you’re sorry.