The one G-d illuminates and animates the entire soul, through being enclothed in its faculty of Chochmah (wisdom) which is beyond any graspable knowledge or intelligence.. - The Tanya, Ch. 18
The Danish Poet, Piet Hein, wrote "Love is like a pineapple, sweet and undefinable."
As elusive as love may be, we can still talk about different kinds of it. Let's take the love of food for instance. Is it fish that you fancy? Then maybe the best way to express that would be to let them swim rather than fry and eat them. And what about money? It's also a materialistic attraction (and how!) but a little more abstract, especially nowadays when physical currency is not so current, and cash today is neither cold nor hard, but just a transient blip in cyberspace.
For a somewhat more refined kind of love, there's the love of arts, literature, and music. Moving on to an attraction more ephemeral yet, there is the world of ideas and refined character traits, such as dignity, humility, or wisdom.
But all of these don't reach the truest quality of love, because with each of the above, the bottom line is self-love, not love of another. Think fish. I love satisfying my hunger. Whether it tickles my taste buds, ear buds, funny bone or brain, the object of my interest is really me, and the more that's true, the less it is truly love. So how can I transcend? How can I move from mirror to window and learn to love for real.
Nearly 3,000 years ago, upon completing the construction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, King Solomon wrote an ode to the love between man and G-d, the biblical Song of Songs. Couched in the language of romantic love, its very premise seems strange to us today - How can a human love some Being that is absolutely unknowable, indeed so unknowable that many are not even sure He exists? We have a hard enough time loving those we know. And if such spiritual love can be attained, will it not be better expressed more cerebrally?
The key to the answer lies in the metaphor itself. My significant other is much like myself, a being of body and soul. Loving for the body is about chasing a feeling and in that way, it's like the list of loves above - selfish. But the spiritual side is not like that.
How so? For starters, picture yourself having a conversation with someone, anyone. Whether it's family, friend, client or stranger, where do you look when you really want to share? Normally, it's the eyes. And where in the eye? The pupil.
Isn't it strange that when we want to ensure that communication is for real, the place of all places that we rest our gaze is the one place where there is nothing to see? Think about it. We have just one organ that's dedicated to recording and interpreting incoming light and it only is satisfied when focusing on a spot that won't give any?
What are we looking for over there, anyway? Words aren't there, they come from the mouth. Body language isn't there, it's in countless details of everywhere else. Is it the retina we seek or the brain itself? No way. We are looking for the essence, the person himself. And what is that essence? The soul.
The eyes are the window of the soul. Poetically, the most sensible place to seek an invisible soul is in an invisible place, a place of nothingness, or in slightly other words, of no thingness. And this is the key to love.
When I love according to what I understand, my love goes no further than what I appreciate. The gestures I know are the measures of the responses I will have. If you are only so lovable, I will love you only so much.
But the pupil carries another message entirely. It marks the immeasurable realm of the unknown. When I love the infinite, unbounded you, my love is likewise unlimited too. The more we appreciate, the more there is to appreciate, as the infinity of my soul touches the infinity of yours.
Returning to the Temple and the Song of Songs, we can now get an inkling of what's going on. The Infinite One that was revealed in the Temples touches the infinite soul that rests between mine.
Wonders and miracles, while exciting and inspiring, are mere externalities. We are impressed by their grandeur which we readily appreciate. At a deeper level there is just a Presence, an Infinite Beyond we can never know. And that's what evokes a love that's true, an infinite commitment from my own infinite depths. Measure for measure in an immeasurable way.
Piet Hein was a scientist and designer too. He is best known for his "squircles," or square circles, cleverly modeled shapes mathematically known as superellipses, that blend roundness and four-sidedness to create better roadways, nicer dishes, and more elegant furniture.
The classic ellipse, a kind of oval, is an interesting shape,and it lends us a graphic perspective on this lesson of love.
According to one view of gravitation, small objects orbit larger objects not in circular paths, but rather elliptical ones. Geometrically it turns out, ellipses have not one centre, but two, and each is called a focus. The greater object lies at one focus, and the lesser object orbits around. But what lies at the other focus, the second equally important centre of elliptical motion. The answer is nothing, no thing, it's just a spot around which things turn, going on forever like the planets in the sky.
Infinite love, like an infinite orbit, is motivated by both - the revelations we can see and the reality we can never know. When Moshiach comes, the two will unite, the physical and the spiritual, the two foci will become one and the circle will be closed, with G-d and man together forever.
Kuntres Umaayan, and Sicha of 19 Tishrei, 5724.
Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To contact, read more or to book him for a talk, visit www.arniegotfryd.com or call 416-858-9868