Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A few notes about LOVE in marriage and friendship

Guest Post Mr. Ploni from a comment to this post  A Man should love his wife like his tefillin

I just wanted to add a few personal reflections concerning this extremely important thread about LOVE, which I don’t think have been dealt with adequately yet.

We need to DEFINE love.

Once we define love, I think the intent of the sources Rabbi Eidensohn mentions becomes much clearer and; it becomes possible to understand the wisdom of their approach and the relevance even in this day and age.

Allow me to mention a fascinating Rambam in Pirkei Avos 1:6. The Mishna says עשה לך רב וקנה לךחבר, and the Rambam cites Aristotle’s three definitions of love as אוהב התועלת, אוהב המנוחה, אוהב המעלה and he further breaks down the second type – אוהב המנוחה – into two subcategories: אוהב ההנאה, אוהב הבטחון
Here’s his לשון, I found it to be a real eye-opener:

ומה טוב מאמר אריסטוטלוס, האוהב אחד הוא והאוהבים ג' מינים: אוהב תועלת אוהב מנוחה ואוהב מעלה. ואמנם אוהב תועלת כאהבת השותפים ואהבת המלך ומחנהו. ואמנם אוהב מנוחה היא שני מינים אוהב הנאה ואוהב בטחון. אמנם אוהב הנאה כאהבת הזכרים לנקבות וכיוצא בהם. ואמנם אוהב בטחון הוא שיהי' לאדם אוהב תבטח נפשו בו לא ישמר ממנו לא במעשה ולא בדבור ויודיעהו כל עניניו הטוב מהם והמגונה מבלתי שיירא ממנו שישיגהו בכל זה חסרון לא אצלו ולא אצל זולתו כי כשיגיע לאדם בטחון באיש זה השעור ימצא מנוחה גדולה בדבריו ובאהבתו הרבה. ואוהב מעלה הוא שיהיה תאות שניהם וכונתם לדבר אחד והוא הטוב וירצה כל אחד להעזר בחברו בהגיע הטוב ההוא לשניהם יחד וזהו האוהב אשר צוה לקנותו והוא כאהבת הרב לתלמיד והתלמיד לרב.

Note that the Rambam ends his comments by saying that type #3, namely שניהם כוונתם לדבר אחד והוא הטוב ... בהגיע הטוב ההוא לשניהם יחד is the האוהב אשר צוה לקנותו.

I think that it’s fair to say that he isn’t only referring to ONE specific good friend, but rather that ALL our important relationships should be based on a COMMON DENOMINATOR which unites all parties – reaching טוב-GOODNESS, or becoming a “good person”.

The concept of “goodness” is something that Aristotle espouses and positive psychologists today expound upon, as “flourishing”: A sense of joy and wellbeing that emanates from striving to live a moral and ethical life. This is exactly what Chazal constantly tell us to do in מצוות בין אדם למקום ובין אדם לחבירו, and something that the נביאים constantly exhorted Kllal Yisroel to do. This is the essence of the mitzvah of והלכת בדרכיו ... מה הוא רחום וכו'.

Freudian psychologists would probably consider such behaviors “mature defense mechanisms”, such as altruism, sublimation, etc.

I think some commentators here may have inadvertently be making one of two mistakes:

1) The first mistake: Some commentators seem to assume that all the sources cited by Rabbi Eidensohn preclude the physical attraction of love (Rambam’s type #2 subcategory #1). Their understanding is that the sources mentioned demand that spouses pretty much despise each other from a physical standpoint. This is incorrect, as we see in Baba Kama 82.
עזרא תיקן ... שיהו רוכלין חזירין בעיירות, פרש"י: בשמים לנשים להתקשט בהם.

This halacha is brought in Shulcahn Aruch חו"מ ס' קנ"ו ס"ו. Why would Chazal want women to wear בשמים if we’re supposed to despise them? Still, the same S”A also tells us to avoid hedonistic desire (as R”E quoted from או"ח ס' רל"א).

Surely, the S”A doesn’t contradict himself. I believe the explanation lies in separating ENDS from MEANS. The S”A, warns us against hedonistic ENDS and simultaneously ENCOURAGES sensory MEANS (as necessary), towards reaching a higher level of love. This higher level is the Rambam’s type #3: Mutual striving towards GOODNESS.

2) The second mistake: Some might assume that where physical attraction is non-existent, the WHOLE of the relationship is a very weak one. After all, if physical attraction isn’t present, very often marriages end up being utilitarian partnerships & matters of convenience (along the lines of type #1 in the Rambam) that therefore offer very little that binds them together when better opportunities present themselves. Had the assumption been correct, the criticism would indeed be quite valid. However I believe that the assumption is based on ignorance concerning the existence of – and superior benefits of – type #3 of love that the Rambam mentions; אוהב מעלה. In practical terms, this is love formed through an overarching desire where BOTH parties benefit from striving TOGETHER towards a common goal of “goodness”.

These very worthy sources are exhorting us against seeing hedonistic love as an ENDS. They have no need to expound on the need to build a solid base of love based on mutual striving towards the “good life” of flourishing, because should be the basis of ALL relationships, from a Torah perspective. They never meant to leave a void in “love”, rather to warn against the corrosive and readily apparent dangers of hedonism.

Such an approach is also extremely pragmatic. 1) As we all know, hedonistic love ages quickly. In most cases, the lust of youth turns into the dirty laundry of middle age. 2) Love Types #1 & #2 are often "scarce commodities". Since each party has a "taking" goal, there is a real possibility nfor the balance to become or perceived as becoming, unfair. #3 is also a "giving" (agape) love, as the לשון הרמבם בהגיע הטוב ההוא לשניהם יחדת.

If we heed Chazal’s words of wisdom. I believe that countless marriages and Parent-Child relationships would be much, much more better off. If only our culture didn’t habitually discount the Rambam’s קנה לך חבר!

PS: The Ramabam's category #2/2 is the best source so far that I've found for most of today's popular expressive-supportive therapy. As he mentions ימצא מנוחה גדולה, etc. Still, he mentions that it isn't enough. Besides the fact that trust isn't isn't easy to attain and מנוחה pales in comparison to reaching goodness, very often the therapist’s ulterior financial motives of type#1 are laid bare. But that’s another discussion…

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