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What is the Secret to Love That Lasts?

Thursday, 7 September, 2023 - 7:53 pm

A husband was arrested for shoplifting in a supermarket. When he went to trial, the judge asked him, “What did you steal?”

“A can of peaches,” he replied.

The judge then asked him why he had stolen the can, and he explained that he had been hungry.

The judge asked him, “How many peaches were in the can?”

“Six,” he replied.

“Then I will give you six months in jail,” the judge ruled.

But before the judge could rap his gavel, the man’s wife stood and said, “Your Honor, I've got something to say.”

 “What’s that?” the judge asked.

“He also stole a can of peas!”

The husband is still recovering. The swelling in his eye is going down and the doctors are fairly optimistic…

Love is complicated. There is no other emotion that starts with such tremendous passion and yet ends so regularly with a can of peas or a black eye. Yet each of us craves extraordinary relationships that nurture and fulfill us, even though we know the stakes are high. But how do we actually create and sustain them?

A mystic came across his student clearly enjoying the fish dish that he was eating. The elderly mystic said to the young man, “Why are you eating the fish?”   “Because I love fish.”

“Oh, so you love fish! That's why you took this one out of the water and killed it. Don't tell me you love the fish. The truth is you love yourself. That’s what I call fishy love!

Sometimes, a person says, “I love you,” but it’s fishy love.

What he or she really means is: I love myself, and I have strong feelings for you because you fulfill a need I have. I love the way you make me feel.

The truth is that the only way love will flourish is if you learn to love selflessly and unconditionally, when you see your relationship as a place that you go to give when you have an abundance of love and generosity and kindness that is already overflowing, and not a place that you go to take.

Indeed, this marvelous truth is embedded in the Hebrew word for love, Ahava. The root of Ahava is “hav” which means to give—to give your attention, to give your energy, to give your time, and to give your heart. And the beauty is that when you give this much, you get even more in return.

You create joy, passion, trust, and an intimacy that transcends every obstacle and every challenge that comes your way. And the giving itself becomes a gift to you also because nothing feels more rewarding than to genuinely give to another.

People also make a common but serious mistake in thinking that you give to those whom you love. In reality, you love those to whom you give. And the more you give, the more you love!

Because when you give, you are investing a part of yourself in that person. Your time, effort, and resources, are now invested in them. They hold a part of you. We love what we work hard for. You can see this clearly with your financial investments.

When people first meet, they’re constantly giving to the other, and because they give so much, they feel so much more love. But as time goes on, they slowly stop doing and slowly stop feeling. Once they have each other in marriage or a long-term relationship, many of them stop trying. Then they begin to wonder why the magic we used to have is gone

They forget that love is a verb. And what is a verb? At school, we were told that a verb is a doing word. Yes, a word that is all about the doing. Not the thinking, not the considering doing—but the doing itself.

The problem is not that you “fell out of love.” It's that you stopped giving love. And once you stop giving it, then you’ll stop receiving it, because the act of giving love is self-perpetuating.

The simple solution is that if you do what you did at the beginning of your relationship, there won’t be an end but a renewed beginning!

To paraphrase JFK, “Ask not what your spouse can do for you; ask what you can do for your spouse.” Giving is how love grows and flourishes.

Friends, truly extraordinary and successful relationships don’t come to people because they are lucky, perfectly matched, or awash in amazing chemistry. Successful relationships are the products of hard work, determination, and daily nurturing—and these are the factors that make relationships feel as if they are well-matched and awash in chemistry.

The Midrash recounts that in the second century, in the prosperous port city of Sidon, on the coast of Lebanon, there lived a couple blessed with wealth and an honored place in the community. There was, however, a great void in their lives. Although married for ten years, they had no children. Buckling under the strain and frustration of this state of affairs, the couple decided to get divorced.

They turned to the great Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai for advice. He looked at the couple for a long time, and then he said to them, “I ask only one thing of you both. If you must part, then just as you got married with celebration, so should you part from each other with celebration.”

They took his advice and arranged a great feast. During the evening, the husband raised his cup and said to his wife who was soon to leave, “True, this is the last meal we shall share together, but don’t leave just yet. Before you go, look around at the treasures of this house, choose the most precious jewel your heart desires, and take it back with you to your parents’ house.”

She did not respond to his offer but mixed and spiced the wine and they drank a lot of it together.

The candles burned low in the room and the husband, overcome by heavy drowsiness, fell asleep. While he was asleep, the wife told her servants to lift him up on the cushions upon which he slept and carry him to her parents’ house. As dawn broke, the husband opened his eyes in a daze and discovered that he was in strange surroundings.

“Where am I?” he asked.

“In the house of my parents,” she said.

“Why?” he asked.

“This is where you asked to be taken. Did you not say to me last night, ‘Take with you the most precious thing your heart desires?’ To me, there is nothing in the world more precious than you.”

At that moment, they realized how strongly they felt for one another. Overwhelmed, they embraced. They had found each other once again and seen each other with fresh and loving eyes. The next day, the couple appeared again before Rabbi Shimon. He had expected them, and at a glance perceived their happy reunion just as he had expected.

He prayed for the couple, and they were soon blessed with a child.

What is the message of this story? And if Rabbi Shimon’s prayers had such power, why did he wait? Why didn’t he pray for them in the first place?

The story of the couple of Sidon, says the Alter Rebbe, is not about them alone; it conveys an eternal truth about love that applies to all of us as well.

When the couple first came to Bar Yochai, their love for each other was conditional, it was goal-oriented.  In saying that their marriage had no point if it produced no child, they placed no value on the marriage and the union in and of itself—only valuing it for what they could get from it.

This failure consumed everything else, all the beauty and strength that existed between them. When you love someone because you want something from them, then it’s not really love at all. The other person only becomes a vehicle for your gratification. That kind of love is fishy and doesn’t last. It is bound to end in disappointment.

Remember that it was when the couple were about to part, on the verge of divorce, that they discovered that deeper, unconditional love for each other. They went back to Bar Yochai because they knew they wanted to be together—even though they already knew that they were not going to have that child they each desired. Paradoxically, it was when the couple began to love each other unconditionally and without ulterior motives that their relationship blossomed, and their lives were blessed.

This is the great paradox at the heart of love. When we worry only about ourselves, when we constantly think about how to make ourselves happier, and how to get more, we guarantee that our deepest needs will continue to go unmet. But when we stop constantly focusing on ourselves and learn to love unconditionally, and when we reach out to give love to one another instead of making love conditional upon what we will receive back as a reward—then we discover true fulfillment and happiness.
In the Torah reading of Rosh Hashanah, Abraham and Sarah—like the couple of Sidon—were blessed with a child after many years of waiting. How did this come about? How were their lives suddenly so enriched?

Abraham left his sick bed and fought through his pain to show hospitality to three strangers. Then Sarah rushed away from her own comforts to prepare a lavish meal for them. The three strangers turned out to be divine messengers who announced that Sarah would give birth to a son and ensure the future of the Jewish people. They brought the best news but they could have been anyone, showing up for any reason, and their warm welcome would have been just the same—genuine, and heartfelt.

Sarah and Abraham suddenly found the tables turned, and now found themselves the beloved guests at G-d’s table, where miracles were served. How beautifully this story expresses the truth: When you lovingly give to others, you get even more in return. When you are gracious hosts, you become honored guests.

Giving abundantly and constantly to our loved ones, and there will always be more blessings coming our way.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

Comments on: What is the Secret to Love That Lasts?
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