Shaya Cohen -


How Do You Make Someone Love You?

Can you imagine being deeply in love with someone who does not share your feelings? I think it must be incredibly painful and lonely. If you cannot “move on,” then it becomes something of an obsession.

How could you fix it? How do you make someone love you? And by love, I don’t mean merely inspiring desire or companionship, I mean a deep spiritual and physical hunger, one that is only temporarily ameliorated – never entirely satisfied – even by being together.

Other relationships are more straightforward. If you are superior in some way, then I imagine that occasional reminders are enough to command respect. If you are powerful, it is not hard to inspire fear. Parents can achieve both with their children, but neither is the same thing as love.

I think of fear or awe, especially, as being responses to the visual. In part this is because the Hebrew for fear, “yirah”, shares the same root word as “sight”. When we see things we react to them, even though those things may be superficial – think of a gorgeous person or a terrifying monster. It is a reaction that does not require much (if any) thought. Every child can be afraid; it is an instinctive response.

Consider it this way: you can admire a picture or a vision or a person without any other interaction: just as watching television requires no feedback to the actors or producers of a show, so, too, we can be afraid of drought or an earthquake without any acknowledgement or requirement that the rain or earth are conscious of our fear.

By contrast, love requires a combination of factors, from respect to empathy to understanding. It requires interaction, not merely admiration from afar. Interaction between intellectual and spiritual beings is tied to thought – and we think about the things that we hear. Love is a thoughtful interactive thing, and so it is intrinsically tied to the idea of “hearing.”

The Hebrew for this is “shma” and it has no direct English equivalent. “Shma” in Hebrew really means to listen, to think about, to internalize, to chew over. Shma does not suggest obedience, but the acknowledgement that information has been received and will be considered. When we listen to someone we love, we may not agree, but we are engaged and thinking about what they have to say – and vice-versa.

The problem is that it is easier to scare someone than it is to make them think. In other words, if one is powerful, inspiring fear is easy. But inspiring love is much, much more difficult. All the things that a person does to show love to someone else, the thoughtful gestures, the gentle words, the small acts of consideration… these only reach the object of our desire if they are listening.

I think this is a key problem not only between people, but between G-d and man. The Torah is full of G-d’s desire for us to love Him, and providing the symbols and systems in the commandments through which that love can be nurtured and grown. But when we forget G-d’s presence, whether because of idleness or selfishness or simple risk aversion, then we no longer notice all the ways in which we are blessed and through which G-d is calling out to us for a relationship, and for conversation.

G-d’s problem is that the tools to inspire love in mankind are, as we have said, quite limited. Making someone love you is not trivial. But making someone fear you, if you are G-d, is easy enough. So the Torah is full of threats of consequences and punishments for when the Jewish people forget to fear G-d.

Can you imagine trying to make someone love you by threatening them, and punishing them? By making them suffer? It is, to put it mildly, a terrible way to show that you care.

And yet: what else works? What maintains some tenuous connection between man and our creator?

G-d has tried everything. Death. Suffering. Destruction. He has used people who hate Jews as tools to remind Jews of our connection and relationship (the entire Book of Esther is about this). Anti-semitism across the ages is, to me, nothing more than a divine reminder to the Jewish people of what happens when we are not engaging with G-d, loving him in hearing and thinking and speech, as well as through our deeds. Anti-semites are mere symptoms of the underlying disease: that we are not fully engaged in growing our relationship with G-d in love.

Holocausts are a terrible solution to this problem. But perhaps we gave G-d no other choice?

G-d appears to be stuck on the same question that I ask in the title: How can He make us LOVE him? How can he make us not only see and do, but also listen and think? G-d does not want automatons or servants; He wants mankind to be His partner. And that requires love.

How do you make someone love you?


Comments are welcome!

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