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Parashat Vayigash 5777: Love and Soul

In our society we are in love with love. We speak so much about it that it doesn’t feel real anymore. Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Family Day, Friendship Day… Soap Operas, movies, romance. With all this influence we would think that we are the most caring people, the cutest sweetest ones… and we are not… Maybe we define specific days to express love so we don’t have to deal with it the rest of the time? Our society is violent, competitive and ruthless. The statistics of divorces are not encouraging. So how do you measure love? How do we understand it? Our Parashah includes one of the finest sentences about love. When the Torah speaks about the relationship between Yaakov and Binyamin it says “and his soul was connected to his soul”. Does the Torah mean that true love is when the essence of somebody connects with the essence of somebody else? Two souls, father and son, connected so strongly as if by physical cables. According to the American philosopher Robert Nozick, love is the effort of two people to expand their self definition to include in it somebody else. Instead of thinking about “me”, we begin to understand ourselves as “we”. Maybe this idea inspired Rabbi David Cordovero to interpret this verse to tell that because of the big love that Yaakov had towards Binyamin his soul would leave his body if the brothers come back from Egypt without the youngest son. It is as if Binyamin is now a part of Yaakov’s soul and every damage in one of them affects the other. In the same fashion, every kindness shown to the son it is also a kindness to the father. Love, then, is to redefine ourselves. We are not simple individuals, we grow and include the needs, desires and hopes of those we love. A partner is more than the person I live with, more than my lover. Our partner is the expression of this new being: “we”. If you hurt one, then the other will cry too. The Rashbam said that because their souls are intertwined, if Yaakov would see that the boy has been taken, then he would die because his soul was taken. When we grow and define ourselves as incomplete without the other, without our partner or our children, we expose ourselves to a great pain, to the possibility of loss and disappointment. Still, at the same time, we enable the expanding of our soul, the inclusion of another soul to be connected to ours and that’s the closest we can get to peek into the Divine. That’s the holiness of love.

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