Some time back, it was popular to talk about the “Five Love Languages”, the ways in which a person shows his or her love to someone else. I was always kind of resistant, partially because I reflexively suspect categorization as being a somewhat fuzzy and lazy tool, especially when applied to relationships. Or as the Babylon Bee puckishly “reported,” Husband Declares His Love Language is Marathoning All the ‘Lord of the Rings’ Movies.
Still, there is no denying that people absolutely often express love through acts of service, affirming words, gifts, time, and touch. But that, at least to me, neither properly categorizes, nor even includes the most important language of love in a growing relationship: listening. Indeed, listening to the other person is not only important, but it is the gateway to having a successful relationship in the first place. Hearing the other person, and considering what she has to say, is the first and single most important step in any proper relationship. Everything that comes after that builds on that single foundation.
I would submit that the Torah offers us a different set of love languages, the things people do when they wish to grow a relationship. They are as follows: listening, expressing desire, exchanging gifts, and visits.
“Where,” you might wonder, “did he get THAT in the Five Books of Moses?” The answer is very simple: in the commandments relating to the ultimate and completing festival of the entire Jewish year: Sukkos. And it all starts with listening – most specifically, G-d listening to man.
The first time portable booths, sukkos are mentioned in the Torah, Jacob left the service toLaban and dangerous encounter with his brother Esau, and was on the road back home to Canaan. He built sukkos for his flock, and a house for himself. It seemed to bridge the gap for him on his journey, providing a transition from his time with Laban and his brother back to his home in Canaan.
Something amazing happens: Jacob built Sukkos and a house, and G-d, it seems, was listening!
When G-d took the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt, we were also, like Jacob, on our way to Canaan. And then G-d imitated Jacob: He provided us, his flock, with booths, sukkos in the wilderness. He commanded us to build Him a home: the tabernacle. Commemorating the sukkos was enshrined in the Torah as one of the five festivals, which is why my family and I are dwelling in our Sukkah now. But the whole idea came to be because Jacob invented it, and G-d truly listened to Jacob. That provides the underpinning not only for Sukkos but for all of Judaism: G-d and man listening to each other.
There are four species that we bring together on Sukkos, and they represent Expressing Desire and Exchanging Gifts
1: Tamar – the palm. Joseph Cox writes:
Tamar is also the name of a person. Tamar, when she put herself in Judah’s path, took things into her own hands. She did it in order to remain a part of the Jewish people and the divine relationship. The tamar we bring represents our desire to be with G-d.
2: Hadass, myrtle. Joseph writes:
This is also a gift, but the words are more obscure. The word עָבֹת is rare. It is used to describe the gold braid that wraps around the stones on the priest’s breastplate. Gold represents the divine. With this chain, G-d is embracing our people. The myrtle represents G-d’s mysterious desire to be with us.
1: Willow, described as the enriching stream. Joseph:
Bilaam describes us as Hashem’s nachal, watering the world. It is a theme that recurs again and again. We are G-d’s spiritual stream.
Erev, twilight, mixes night and day. Likewise, we mix our world with His. We mix the physical and the spiritual.
The willow thus defines our gift to Hashem, bringing His presence into the world like a spring waters its environs. We are G-d’s agents, and continuing to act in that role is our ongoing present to our Creator.
2: The fruit of the persisting tree, the citron.
The persisting fruit is G-d’s gift to us, a ready-made fruit that both resembles the Jewish people in that it is seemingly outside the natural order: a citron can still grow and survive even in seasons when nothing else can, and a gift showing that G-d has endowed in us these traits: survival and beauty and persistence even when all around is wintertime and seemingly lost.
Which leaves us with just one love language left: visits.
On Yom Kippur, a mere 5 days before the festival of Sukkos starts, the high priest goes into the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle. There, the divine presence rests, separated from mankind only by a pair of angels, their wings, sochechim, providing both protection and an interference layer that allows man and G-d to be as close as possible without negating our very existence.
The odd thing is that those very angels, cherubim, are made by mankind, in gold. It is the house we made for G-d, and we provide the interface layer between us so that when we visit, we can coexist in almost the same space.
On Sukkot, the roles are flipped! The hut, the sukkah, is to remind us of the protections that G-d gave us to survive in the wilderness. He, not we, made the wilderness survivable. We just lived there. And an incredible thing happens on Sukkos: instead of man visiting G-d, He visits us! And when he does so, the angels are provided by the schach, the “wings” of the natural, G-d-made plants that we use for a roof. Angels in both cases, in both homes, and both used to provide a protective layer: but in the house we built (the tabernacle) man produced the angels, while in the house that G-d builds, the Sukkah, G-d provides the angels.
The idea is that on Sukkos G-d’s presence is on the other side of the natural schach, while on Yom Kippur, man’s presence is on the other side of the man-made schach, the wings of the golden cherubim. Reciprocity, sharing, and visits in our relationship with the divine.
There you have it: the love language of the Torah, shown in all its glory through the festival of Sukkot!