“I learned the meaning of true love from two drunkards,” the legendary Chassidic Master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov, once told his disciples.
“One day, as I was strolling in the streets of my
neighborhood, I overheard a conversation between two drunkards:
The first drunkard exclaimed: “I love you!”
His friend, the second drunkard, responded: “No, you don’t.”
But the first drunkard was insistent: “Yes, I promise you. I love you with all my heart.”
So, the second drunkard retorted: “No, you don’t. If you truly love me, why don’t you know what hurts me?'”
In contrast to the opinions of many, this story demonstrates that love is not determined by the good feelings it may engender, and the benefits that it provides. For, after all, if love just about me and my pleasures, I am really only loving myself.
Rather, true love tells the story of an altruistic act that focuses entirely on the other – his joys and his pains, his emotions and his worries. This is also why the word for love in Hebrew, Ahava, also means “to give” (the root word of “Ahava” is “Hav”, which means “giving” in Aramaic). For love means to give to the other, selflessly and unconditionally.
In this week’s portion we read about the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca: “Isaac took Rebecca, she becomes his wife, and he loves her.” The order of affairs is telling: First, Isaac marries Rebecca. Then, he loves her. Love, the verse is implying, can only come after we have transcended our ego and its selfish desires, to become one with our beloved.
Indeed, to experience true love, we must be able to set our personal feelings aside, and ask ourselves, “Have I cared for my counterpart today? Have I felt his or her hurts and aches? Have I rejoiced at his or her triumphs and successes? Have I devoted myself to his or her needs, even if they may, at times, rock my comfort zone?”
If and when we answer yes to these questions, we will then have discovered the meaning of true love.