9th Elul: The nature of love. Ledodi le're'ehu
Elul Meditation Programme Week 2: Relationships with others and/or the Other
Every love which depends on a thing – when the thing disappears, the love disappears. But [the love] which does not depend on a thing never disappears. What is the love which depends on a thing? It is the love of Amnon and Tamar. And [the love] which does not depend on a thing is the love of David and Jonathan. (Pirqey Avot 5:16).
This Mishna prompts us to question ourselves about the nature of love and the way we love. The love which is bound to disappear is the conditional one. The example given of such a love is the “passion” that Amnon, one of King David’s sons, felt for his half-sister Tamar. Amnon raped her; immediately afterwards, he hated her even more than he had “loved” her. Some commentaries say that Tamar, defending herself, harmed him physically and insulted him, which was the reason for Amnon’s hatred to her; according to another commentary, when Amnon realized that he had done a despicable act, he hated her for having caused him the desire to do that.
But did ever Amnon love Tamar? Certainly not. If Amnon had loved Tamar as a person, he would never have done violence to her. The only thing that he loved was the physical pleasure he could obtain from her.
In other words, Tamar was not a loved person to him but a mean to obtain the true object of his desire: sexual pleasure. In other stories, people may pretend to “love” someone while using this person to obtain money, higher social status or recognition, etc.
The love between David and Jonathan was utterly different. Scripture describes it as a bond between their souls, which was not influenced by any external consideration. Indeed, Jonathan was the son of Saul, who feared David and wanted to kill him. Jonathan could have considered David as a threat to the throne he was supposed to inherit from his father. He had many reasons to become David’s enemy. But Jonathan loved David and did not care about power. He loved David as a person and only wished to support him. David recognised the worth of such genuine and rare feelings, which tie souls together forever. Such a love is respectful of the loved person, of their needs, their wishes and aspirations. It enables a nurturing and enriching relationship, contrarily to the feelings of Amnon to Tamar, which were only directed towards his own benefits and were destructive to her.
The Maharal, in his commentary to this Mishna, notes that these two examples are two extremes, but that many loving relationships are more complex: they do not completely depend on other things, but they are not completely disconnected from them either. Such relationships last for some time but finally end.
Thus, we are prompted to try and discern what are the underlying feelings in our relationships: such an enquiry may help us reinforce the relationships which are truly important to us, while putting aside the things which may tarnish them.
Rabbi Iris Fereira LBC 2021 Strassbourg France