The candied hearts and sentimental greeting cards have already begun to line the aisles of supermarkets and grocery stories. February has come and Valentine’s Day beckons.
This commercialized celebration of love evokes complex emotions amongst us. For some, this day offers an opportunity to honor the most precious relationships in our lives. For others, this is not a holiday of love at all, but a holiday of lack. Why haven’t I met that special someone in my life?
Valentine’s Day might even be a holiday of loss. For those whose special love has left their lives, the chocolate hearts and rose bouquets are but a bittersweet reminder of a feeling and a someone that can only be yearned for.
As a community of Jewish practice and prayer, we need not succumb to the dominant cultural assumptions about Valentine’s Day. We need not feel those pigments of elation, sorrow, or loneliness which color the day. Let us not forget the full name of the holiday – Saint Valentine’s Day. Recall that the holiday began in commemoration of a Christian saint. I certainly don’t write this to berate Valentines Day. There is nothing more special than sharing a special night with your beloved, and I’d have to be crazy to turn down a giant box of chocolates.
But perhaps, just perhaps, a day like St. Valentine’s Day is foreign to Jewish tradition. In our tradition,we need not mark our calendars to place love in the center of our hearts and minds. For every day in Jewish practice upholds this tenderest of feelings: love for our creator (Deut. 6:5) , love for our neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), love for the stranger (Deut. 19:18), love for all beings and the world which holds our living community (Psalm 136). We are commanded to love, with all our hearts, with all ourminds, and with all our souls. (Deut. 6:5, the V’ahavta)
A kabbalistic teaching tells us that God created the world because love needs another to love. Our world beckons us to love, to deepen our capacity to receive the compassion, empathy, and care that radiates from a universe which, according to the Talmud, was made for each and every one of us (Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5). The love of Jewish tradition is not exclusive love. It leaves no person behind. Rather, this love is a reflection of the divine imprint within us. A famous Jewish proverb teaches: “Only love can give us a taste of the eternal.”
Perhaps our task in life is to learn from the natural models which surround us, to learn to love ourfellow beings from the most intimate relationships in our lives. Only then can we hold both the joys and the sorrows evoked by each person’s heart, come February 14.
Rabbi Mira Weller