Love makes the world go ’round, or so the song writers would have you think. Just about every song ever written is about love. It celebrates love. It talks about unrequited love. It includes the heartbreak that often comes with love. Whether you are Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel, Waylon Jennings, or Mick Jagger, the songs are almost always about love.
My girlhood friend Sherry and I developed a code to talk about the boys we liked. We named one of them “Anybody” Another was “Anyone.” There was also a “Someone,” a “Somebody,” and an “Everybody.” We thought we were quite clever in the car asking each other if we’d seen Anybody lately or how Someone looked at school that day. It was all great until we took a trip down to Yankton to see the dam with Sherry’s father and the radio suddenly started playing Dean Martin’s hit song, “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime.” We lost it and I can’t hear that song without thinking about all those boys.
One of the things we notice in Torah, particularly here in Genesis is that nearly every time the word “love” appears in reference to one person loving another, there is some sort of conflict that arises. The first appearance is in Genesis 22:2 where we learn that God told Abraham to “Take now your son, your only one, the one you love…” What follows that mention of love is the horrifying story of the Akedah in which Abraham nearly kills Isaac on an altar.
We later read that “Isaac loved Esau…but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (Genesis 25:28). What kind of issues arose from that sort of favoritism?
In this week’s portion, Va-Yatzei, we read that “[Jacob] loved Rachel more than Leah.” (Genesis 29:30). The literal translation is “[Jacob] also loved Rachel more than Leah.” That’s not even correct grammatically. The “also” with the “more than” contradicts itself and in one sentence the grammatical syntax represents a relationship fraught with all sorts of tension. The issue is so great that in literally the next verse it says, “The LORD saw that Leah was unloved…” That’s the polite English translation. The Hebrew indicates that “God saw that Leah was hated.” But back up to see that is not what it really says. It says Leah was loved, just not quite as much as Rachel. And yet how do you feel if you are playing second fiddle in a love relationship? Don’t you feel unloved, even hated?
Leah went on to name her first three sons in recognition of these feelings of being hated: Reuben means “the LORD has seen my affliction” and also “now my husband will love me.” Simeon was born and Leah declared, “This is because the LORD heard that I was unloved and has given me this one also.” When Levi was bon, she said “This time my husband will become attached to me, for I have borne him three sons.” And with that, the birthing wars were off and running.
We also know what kind of chaos erupted because “Now Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph best of all his sons.” Love is not uniting, but perhaps the greatest divider of all if we are to believe the stories that come out of Genesis.
If this is so, then why is the core pillar upon which Judaism stands all about love? We are instructed to love God with all our hearts, souls, and might, love our neighbors as ourselves, and love the stranger for we were once strangers. That’s a lot of love and a lot of potential heart ache for everyone. If you’ve ever had your heart broken, you know that love is not all that and a bag of chips. It has the potential for crushing your spirit and reducing you to your most vulnerable.
It’s interesting that the rabbis chose the haftarah for Va-Yetzei from the book of the prophet Hosea. What is the book of Hosea all about? It’s about a man who loves a woman who is completely unfaithful to him. She bears children by another man and yet he is instructed by God to stay with her and still love her, perhaps so that he will understand the kind of betrayal that God knows from us.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, tells us that love is not enough. Love must always be tempered with justice. We recognize this tension when we call to God saying, Avinu Malkeinu, My Father, My King. A father is one who loves us unconditionally. A king is one who brings impartial justice to the table. God is both. As Sacks says in his essay, Love Is Not Enough:
But love is not enough. You cannot build a family, let alone a society, on love alone. For that you need justice also. Love is partial, justice is impartial. Love is particular, justice is universal. Love is for this person not that, but justice is for all. Much of the moral life is generated by this tension between love and justice.
Jonathan Sacks, “Love is not enough,” Aish.com
Perhaps this is the cause of the great divide in America today. We have one side sure that love and acceptance of all regardless of who they are or how they behave is the answer even as they exclude anyone who disagrees with their perspective. On the other side, we have the “Justice, justice, you shall pursue” party intent on making those who disagree with them pay dearly for their sins. We need both, justice and love, to survive as a nation.
In our personal lives as well, we need to recognize that while love does indeed make the world go ’round in some respect, justice is what drives equal treatment under the law.
Justice helps us temper the love we have for the sinner so that the righteous aren’t made to feel “less than.” We can think about how we manage our relationships in terms of loving another while still being honest enough to be fair. At the same time, we can never allow fairness to tip the balance so that love slips into the void. It’s tricky. It’s not just about loving, it’s about considering who feels unloved.
The Beatles sang “All You Need Is Love,” but they were wrong. You need justice as well else there will always be someone feeling as Leah did, unloved…even hated. We are each made in the image of God, capable of immense love. We are also each given free will to say no to that love and even to say no to God. How we manage the balance of the two, justice and love, is what will finally put us all right.