Nurturing Love

April 5, 2018 in Rabbi Greg Harris

“My beloved speaks and says to me, Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.  For, behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing bird has come and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.”

(Shir HaShirim 2:10-12)

Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs, is a beautiful book about two lovers longing for one another.  It is the type of love which inspires poetry, dance, and song.  The custom is to read Shir HaShirim on the Shabbat during Passover which falls this week.  Chazal, a term referring to the collective rabbis of our tradition, understand this book as an allegory of love between the Jewish People and God.  It is read on Passover because the greatest act of love that God extended to the Jewish People was the freedom to develop into the People Israel – Am Yisrael.

While much can be said of the imagery of Shir HaShirim, this year I have been focused on the pashat of the text, the direct meaning of the words.  As depicted, love is passionate, love is longful, but love is also a lot of work.  Too often, the hard work required for relationships to thrive is never discussed.

Life is not a harlequin romance novel or even Shir HaShirim – “By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him but I did not find him.” (3:1)

Relationships require continual nurturing, curiosity, and respect though.  We all intend to remain committed to these basic tenants of healthy relationships but life is just too busy.  It is easy to slip into taking the other for granted.  To forget how to communicate openly and completely with the other.

Judaism has always known there are moments of flow and ebb in relationships thus a wedding couple takes on obligations in their ketubah.  In the marriage document, they commit themselves to honoring, sustaining and supporting each other.  By hanging the ketubah in a prominent place in their home, they can be reminded of these obligations in the course of too full lives.  A couple can reground their love by refocusing on these basic principles of a relationship.

It is not easy.

Movies, books, theater and songs can make love feel much easier than in real life. The hard work in life though is to remember your mutual commitment to support, sustain and honor one another.  Unhealthy relationships do the opposite – they can feel conditional or demeaning; belittling or disparaging; humiliating or controlling.  These characteristics of unhealthy relationships can take many forms but must be brought to light.

For those in abusive relationships, organizations like JCADA (Jewish Coalition for Domestic Abuse) are available to help as well as your clergy.  JCADA’s confidential phone number is 877-88-JCADA (877-885-2232).

As we listen to Shir HaShirim this Shabbat, let us think about the hard work which must accompany being in love.  Then we will be able to say again: “Ani L’Dodi v’Dodi Li” I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. (Shir HaShirim 6:3)