What does Judaism say about love?

The Torah states, “Lo tov heyot ha-adam levado,” “It is not good for a person to be alone.” In the Jewish tradition, marriage is not only for the purpose of having children. It is also for companionship and remedying what Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik called the existential state of loneliness.

The ideal loving relationship in Jewish tradition is an “I-Thou” relationship in which each partner sees the other and treats the other with respect and compassion.

In Judaism, marriage and sex (when in the context of marriage, out of mutual love and desire) are not frowned upon; rather, they are mitzvot. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said: “Love transforms us. It makes us beautiful in the eyes of those who love us. It makes us real.”

“It is not good for a person to be alone”

Bereshit (Genesis) 2:18 states,

וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ ה’ אֱלֹקים לֹא־ט֛וֹב הֱי֥וֹת הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְבַדּ֑וֹ אֶֽעֱשֶׂהּ־לּ֥וֹ עֵ֖זֶר כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ׃

The LORD God said, “It is not good for man to be alone (levado); I will make a fitting helper (ezer kenegdo) for him.”

Commenting on this verse, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik wrote,

“The helper whom God willed to make is indispensable not only for a pragmatic but an ontological reason as well. A person needs help ontologically. Another [person] is necessary to complete a person’s existence, to endow it with existential meaning and directedness.”

The goal is an “I-Thou” relationship

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber encourages us to cultivate an “I-Thou” (as opposed to an “I-It”) relationship with others:

If I face a human being as my Thou, and say the primary word I-Thou to him, he is not a thing among things, and does not consist of things. Thus human being is not He or She, bounded from every other He and She, a specific point in space and time within the net of the world; nor is he a nature able to be experienced and described, a loose bundle of named qualities. But with no neighbor, and whole in himself, he is Thou and fills the heavens. This does not mean that nothing exists except himself. But all else lives in his light…

Just as the melody is not made up of notes nor the verse of words nor the statue of lines, but they must be tugged and dragged till their unity has been scattered into these many pieces, so with the man to whom I say Thou. I can take out from him the color of his hair, or of his speech, or of his goodness… But each time I do it he ceases to be Thou.

The Jewish marriage “triangle”

In his book “The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage,” Rabbi Maurice Lamm wrote about the idea of the ideal Jewish marriage as a triangle:

“If God created man, woman, and their marriage relationship; and if the creation of man and woman is good and marriage a blessing; then God is a conscious, albeit silent, partner in the marriage. Thus the ideal Jewish marriage is a triangle composed of two human beings and their Creator.”

The Talmud (Niddah 31a) expresses a similar idea:

תנו רבנן שלשה שותפין יש באדם הקב”ה ואביו ואמו אביו מזריע הלובן שממנו עצמות וגידים וצפרנים ומוח שבראשו ולובן שבעין אמו מזרעת אודם שממנו עור ובשר ושערות ושחור שבעין והקב”ה נותן בו רוח ונשמה וקלסתר פנים וראיית העין ושמיעת האוזן ודבור פה והלוך רגלים ובינה והשכל

The Sages taught: There are three partners in the creation of a person: The Holy One, Blessed be He, and his father, and his mother. His father emits the white seed, from which the following body parts are formed: The bones, the sinews, the nails, the brain that is in its head, and the white of the eye. His mother emits red seed, from which are formed the skin, the flesh, the hair, and the black of the eye. And the Holy One, Blessed be He, inserts into him a spirit, a soul, his countenance [ukelaster], eyesight, hearing of the ear, the capability of speech of the mouth, the capability of walking with the legs, understanding, and wisdom.

Love that never ceases

In the video, the different couples reflect on Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 5:16, which states:

כָּל אַהֲבָה שֶׁהִיא תְלוּיָה בְדָבָר, בָּטֵל דָּבָר, בְּטֵלָה אַהֲבָה.
וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ תְּלוּיָה בְדָבָר, אֵינָהּ בְּטֵלָה לְעוֹלָם.

All love that depends on something (t’luya b’davar), when the thing ceases, the love ceases; and all love that does not depend on anything (ayna t’luya b’davar), will never cease.

Explore more topics from The Power of Series.

You can find this video on our YouTube channel Unpacked.
You can find this video on our YouTube channel Today Unpacked.

Subscribe to This Week Unpacked

Each week we bring you a wrap-up of all the best stories from Unpacked. Stay in the know and feel smarter about all things Jewish.