Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Vayeitzei

“What’s love got to do with it?” This is the famous question Tina Turner asked in her hit song from the 80’s. I never liked the song, and it had nothing to do with Tina or the song itself. I am of the generation stuck on Jackie DeShannon’s “What the World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love.” We will ignore the awkward “Love Story” interlude of “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

This week’s Torah portion contains the first really wonderful love story in our tradition. In trauma, fleeing from his angry brother and having met God in a dream, Jacob meets the love of his life. He is at a well when Rachel comes to water her flocks. He singlehandedly moves the heavy cover from the well to help the fair maiden. Of course, officially “Twitterpated (Bambi and Thumper)”, he does not realize that she is his cousin … and frankly it would not have mattered. This meeting that kindled Jacob’s eternal burning love for Rachel impacts every story in the rest of Torah.

Perhaps I am a curmudgeon, but I believe it’s all about love. Yes, there are different forms of love. The Greeks were great at distinguishing between love of self, filial love, romantic love, erotic love, and agape love. There are most definitely different ways to express love, but each roots in the idea that we experience deep emotional attachments to certain people. We love our spouses differently than our siblings or neighbors (I hope). There should be a deep connection that we feel with each other that makes us ultimately concerned for each other’s welfare. I care about the people in my community. I have to care deeply for them. If I fail to care, then I put the sanctity of my community at risk. More than that, though, when we engage with people whole new worlds of growth opportunities open for us. Random conversations breed the longest and dearest of friendships.

Ok, the Torah speaks in exaggerated metaphors. Imagine how different the world would be if we could meet people and be able to commit to each other (at any of the love levels) with lifetime intentionality. Even where people are in our lives for only moments, they leave something with us. God said to Jacob, “Your journeys will be blessed.” This means that even as he is walking through people’s lives, blessings exchange between them. Love is supposed to help us see that we need to help each other because it fulfills our needs. Our souls should be bent on creating and nurturing the engagements that make the whole world in which we walk brighter. Love takes work and intentionality; it takes a willingness to hear people’s pain and their celebration and make their challenges and celebrations part of our world view.

Our liturgy includes a piece to which we refer as Ahavat Olam (Love for the World). Our liturgy does not differentiate which types of love we should apply to any given setting; that is for us to do. We are taught, though, that we do not have an alternative to reaching out to each person with love. From where does the violence come that fills our news? Ultimately, it comes from the anguished souls of people who have not experienced being loved in any of its definitions, who have to seek legitimacy through force for they do not receive or perceive receiving it in any organic way.

I know that this prayer for love exists in every religious tradition. I think we need to pray harder. I know that this prayer has to move us to answer our own prayer and find more intentionally loving ways to engage each other. This coming week is Thanksgiving. For what are you thankful? How many hands had to be part of making possible whatever or whomever you express thanks? Our homes and our families are all products of a great many hands and spirits. Each with whom we are in contact is our student and our teacher, at the very same time … and often through pure serendipity and only for isolated moments … sacred isolated moments. So the old adage is true, “Pray as if all depends on God, but act as if God depends on you.” Shabbat Shalom.