Hineini – And the greatest of these is love

Tu B’av is the equivalent of Valentine’s Day in Jewish tradition, but what is love?

By Anat Schneider |
Listen to love Photo: Mila Aviv/Flash 90

When I was a girl of about 17, I sat in the house of someone who would later become my dear husband – the Schneider family home. I don’t remember how it happened, but a card ended up in my hands, and it said:

“But now these three remain: faith, hope, love; and the greatest of these is love.”

I remember reading and trying to internalize the message, but being unable to deeply understand these three important elements, at the head of which is love. It got stored away somewhere in the “hard disk” of my brain.

I grew up, and whether I wanted it or not, life confronted me with challenges. And I had the great need to penetrate into my innermost self and ask questions, cast doubt on what I knew and try to find the truth by which I wanted to live.

This verse popped up again. It reappeared and became an integral part of the never-ending inquiry called “Who am I.” This subject of love came up again and this time even more strongly. And I tried to understand it.

What is love?

What is it about?

And why is love the highest value, more than her other friends, hope and faith? In the inner conversation between me and myself, a listening began to emerge and I gave a wider place to intuition which leads us to the right places.

At present, I understand that love is the embodiment of God in me, in you, between us. Once love becomes the motto with which we walk in life, we are actually proclaiming God’s love without words. We convey the all-important emotion, without which our lives are mere suffering. Emotion is something that does not need to be explained in words (I don’t think it is fully possible to do so in any case). Emotion is something that passes between the cells, between me and myself; and between me and the environment. And when the leading emotion is love, it resonates strongly and powerfully everywhere.

Moses commanded us in his Torah:

“Hear O Israel, YHVH is our God, YHVH is one. And you shall love YHVH your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

YHVH, our God, YHVH – are one. See how a unity is created that brings us to the supreme feeling and the evocative understanding of connection. The commandment said, “You shall love…” We are familiar with this commandment verb form in the Torah: “And you shall say; and you shall remember; and you shall consecrate…” But how can you command an emotion? How can you command someone to love, and what’s more – with all your heart, with all your soul, in every possible measure?

Moses’ answer is found in the well-known words: “Shema Yisrael” Hear O Israel! Listen!

Listen to love. You can hear it like the voice of your conscience. Even if haven’t given space for love, even if you haven’t allowed it to grow. Even if you didn’t dare to feel it. Even if you have been too busy with your day-to-day routine. Even if you saw other tempting idols around you. Hear O Israel, your love…

For your God. For the world He created for you. For the life He gave you. For the possibilities He summoned for you.

Hear O Israel. And express love with your life. In the small moments of life. Both when it’s hard, and when it’s easy. When it’s challenging, and when it’s simple. A love that is connected to the presence of the other and gives place to God in our lives. To listen to Him, respect Him, do for Him. This is what makes us open our hearts. This is what makes love grow. And this is what Moses bequeaths to his beloved people: the commandment of listening, the gift of love.

  • Listening that brings us together,
  • Love that brings grace,
  • Listening that brings correction,
  • Love that brings joy,
  • Listening that brings agreement,
  • Love that brings connection.

Between a person and himself, between a man and his fellow man, between a man and his God.

Only when I learned to really listen to myself, did I also learn to listen to others, and to hear God. And I began to understand what love is.

Today is Tu B’av, Valentine’s Day according to Jewish tradition. It’s a day that originates from a very difficult story in the history of Israel. (You are invited to read the entire story found in Judges Chapters 19-21.) It was a day when Israel was almost divided. It was a day when 11 tribes went out to fight against one tribe, the tribe of Benjamin.

They wanted to denounce and separate this tribe from among the people of Israel. But there is a greater power in the universe, a divine force that is all love. And happily, love won. And that tribe remained a part of the people. And instead of grieving, they went out to dance in the vineyards and find love.

May God grant that in our day:

Israel will be united.

All nations will unite.

Suffering and evil will cease.

The struggles and wars will end.

And we will all have one loving heart.

“And the greatest of these is love”



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