Do You Speak the Language of Love? (Yom Kippur, 11 Tishrei 5773 / September 27, 2012)

I want to tell you something which is very important that you know. Our relationship, our happiness, indeed our future together depends on your understanding this. Please know that it comes from my heart when I say to you:

A-fek-ri-sha le-hou

No? How about

Nu’ umi-un- angwa’ta

Naku panda everyone

Hmmm, I’m not saying this very well, am I?

Try this: Kakh-moosh-kHah

OK, let me say it a different way.

Ani ohev etchem! Hmm… some lights just went on.

How about this: Ich liebe dich.

It seems that some of you understand now, but many don’t. I must not be saying it well enough. Perhaps if I say it this way, then you will perhaps understand what I have been trying to say in so many different languages: I love you.

That wasn’t so difficult now was it? Actually, it was kind of difficult, and had I not been persistent, had I not found the language you understand, you might never have known what I was trying to say.

There are so many ways to say the words, I love you. I first tried Amharic, then Hopi, Swahili, and Klingon, which was not easy, since there is no verb in Klingon “to love,” so you have to say, “I dis-hate you.”  When I gave Hebrew and Yiddish a try, some of you understood.  And of course, when I finally used English, a language which both I can speak and you can understand, the message got through.

Language is the main way we human beings communicate and are there any three words that are more important to say and more important to hear and understand than “I love you?”  So imagine, if you can, the people you love not knowing or feeling that you love them, or what it would feel like if you thought that the people you loved did not love you.  I know that most of us have been there at some points in our lives, some, most painfully and irreversibly so. Unloved and alone – or unloved in a crowd– there may be no greater pain, no greater emptiness.

For most of us, Descartes’ affirmation, “I think, therefore, I am,” is simply not enough. We affirm our own existence by the love we receive and the love we give. I am loved, therefore I am. I love; therefore, I will continue to be. Even love in the past tense, I loved, I was loved, affirms our essential selves. Knowing you are loved – letting other people know and feel that you love them, is as precious as the sun which warms us and the air which gives us life.

Too often we do what I just did – we communicate our love in a language that the one we address does not understand as love. Sounds strange, but it happens to us more than we know.

A few years ago, I was drawn to psychologist / minister Gary D. Chapman’s best selling book, The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts. In it, Rev. Chapman explains how there are in fact different language of love which we speak and understand. And he is not talking about English versus French versus Swahili. He is talking about different modes of communication through which we express our love to others and ways we get the message – or don’t – when someone is expressing their love for us. And the fact that we don’t always speak the same love language as those we love means that too often, our love is not known or felt.

Chapman says that there are essentially five love languages. We, too, often assume that the love languages we speak and understand are the same as those we love. That’s not a good assumption at all. Each of us may speak and understand different love languages, some of us more than one. Each expression of love that is understood as love helps to fill what Chapman calls our love tank.  So think of each expression of love in whatever love language the other understands as a drop, an important drop but just a drop, in their love tanks. And we are not just talking about spouses, this is about parents and children, brothers and sisters, and friends.

What are the 5 Love Languages?

Love Language #1 is the most obvious. It is “Words of Affirmation.” This is the love language through which we communicate our love with words.  If someone understands this love language, every word of kindness, of love and appreciation is a drop into their love tank.

Obviously, saying “I love you” is big. Many of us make the assumption, “Of course he knows I love him.” But if words are his primary love language and he does not hear it, he probably won’t feel it.  

And it is not just “I love you.” It is all those other words of affirmation and appreciation, words of kindness and complements, like:

Wow, that was great, thanks!

You know, you are the best driver I know.

I love that outfit – you look great

Wow, honey, that picture you drew for me in class really made me feel good!

Wow, that was a great goal you just scored!

I’m so proud of you!

Thank you for doing the laundry or taking out the garbage or paying the bills. I just want you to know I notice and appreciate what you do.

The Bible is filled with words of affirmation, none more beautiful than what the lover says to his beloved in the Song of Songs  “Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are like doves.”

Words of affirmation are also like what Ruth said to Naomi: “Whither thou goest, I shall go.”

If you think it or feel it, don’t assume it. Say it. If you don’t think or feel anything is worthy of an affirmation, a compliment or a thanks, keep looking until you do.

Love Language #2 is “Quality Time.”

Quality time is time taken to be together and do things together, tuning off the TV to talk about things that are of interest, taking a walk, going for a drive, playing catch, enjoying music. Quality time does not just mean time being physically together in the same room, it means being present when you are together, attention undivided. As used to multitasking as we all are, and as good as it as we all are, you can’t multitask and be truly present.

The quality of quality time diminishes when it is shared with watching the game, or cooking the stew, or texting, or reading the paper, or doodling on your smart phone.

Quality time can be doing something that is important to all or it could be important to just one. When we do what is important to our loved one because what we are doing is less important than with whom we are doing it, the message for someone who understands love language #2  is, “Right now, you are most important in my life!” 

Quality time is what Ecclesiastes recommends, knowing how little time any of us have: “Enjoy life with the one you love all the fleeting days of life you have been granted.”

For some people, it is the quality time that fills the tank.

Love Language #3 is “Receiving Gifts.”

The giving and receiving of gifts seems to be a universal aspect of human societies and interpersonal relationships. And for some people, the giving and receiving of gifts is the love language they speak and understand the most.  It might sound materialistic, and I imagine for some people it is. But for those who speak and understand the love language of receiving, it’s not about the value of the gift; it’s about the fact that, wherever you were and whatever you were doing, you took time to think of him, her, or them.  

Sometime the gift we give is not a present, it is our presence – being there when we know our presence is important. It is Jonathan being there to support his friend David, even as David is fleeing from Jonathan’s father, King Saul.

To give from yourself or of yourself, for some, is a real tank filler.

Love Language #4 is “Acts of Service.”

We express love through acts of service when we do things which we know our loved one would like us to do. It is Esau bringing game to his father because he had a taste for it. It is about serving the needs and the desires of the other – what we do for each other or with each other in pursuit of a common goal. The seven years that Jacob worked for Rachel seemed like days, because he was serving for the one he loved.

It’s the big things. It’s the little things like what needs to be done around the house – all those other things which give me a headache when I try to think how much there is to be done – helping with homework or a project, doing things which support the other’s interests or activities, efforts which make life better, fuller or at least easier. Acts of service is the language in which you express your love by doing something that you know is important to your beloved.

Not to be terribly gender stereotyping – just a little – some of us guys would do anything for our wives, even go to the ends of the earth, as long as it does not entail picking up a sock. Just remember guys, for some, every sock you pick up is a love note, a drop in her love tank.

I know of a couple who had been married for 25 years and in all that time, had never said they loved each other.  But luckily, “Words of Affirmation” were not their love language. What made each secure in the love of the other were what they did for each other, and with each other in pursuit of their common goals of raising a family and keeping tradition. You may just know them too. Her name was Golde. His name was Tevya.

Acts of Service – if that’s not love, what is?

Finally, Love language #5 is “Physical Touch.”

I think we all know how important physical touch is as an expression of love. We know what happens to children who are held, hugged, and kissed from early on. And we know about what happens to children who are not. But many of us don’t leave that need behind after we leave childhood. Physical touch is a most powerful communicator of love, whether it is holding hands, a kiss or hug on leaving and coming home, anything from a brief touch on the shoulder to you know what, physical touch can be a most powerful expression of love. Touch is the hug of reconciliation between Jacob and Esau, perhaps the first time they had touched since sharing Rebecca’s womb. It is the prophet Elisha’s touch which brought the dead boy back to life.

Chapman writes: “Whatever there is of me resides in my body. To touch my body is to touch me. To withdraw from my body is to distance yourself from me emotionally.” For those whose primary love language is touch, being untouched for too long is like being in the desert with an oasis near by but fenced off. It is torture.

Unwanted touch might be a violation – but touch that is desired, for some, is all the affirmation that some need to feel loved 

And those are the five languages of love. speech, presence with a “c,” presents with a “t,” service and touch.

Long before Chapman, my teacher, Dr. Leo Buscaglia, wrote something which seems to have said it all. Leo wrote, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

How do you figure out your love language and that of those you want to feel your love?

Well, that would probably take another sermon or extended discussion. Let’s just say, if you want to know what a meaningful expression of love from another might be, just open your eyes and open your ears. They have probably told you in a 100 different ways – you just did not understand it for what it was – a dictionary to their love language.  On the other hand, you learn a lot of what is asked for by thinking about what hurts the most when it is absent.

OK, you have probably thought at some point in the last few minutes, why is he talking about this on Yom Kippur? Is it because this afternoon we are going to read one of the central pillars of Judaism, “Love your neighbor as yourself;” and I want to show how many different ways you can do that? Is it because we just read in Deuteronomy that we are called to “Choose life!” and then taught that choosing life entails loving God, listening to what God has to say, and staying close? Is it because I think it will be helpful in our relationships this coming year so that next year there will be less to ask forgiveness for? Or is it because I like the subject and you just happen to be here? The answer, of course, is yes. All of the above.

But on this day of at-one-ment and reconciliation with each other and with God, I do think it helpful to think about God’s love language – to appreciate and feel the love that is coming from God in languages we might not have understood before as love, and to understand how it is we can speak a language of love to God that reaches God’s heart, at least as God has been experienced by our ancestors who felt God’s love and wrote it in a book we call the Bible.

So what are the languages in which God expresses love for us, as best as we can grasp them? I’ll give you my sense, knowing I am just scratching the surface and that you might have different ways of looking at this.

#1. Does God express love through “Words of Affirmation?”

That was certainly the way the Biblical writers felt God’s love. The Bible is full of words of affirmation, divine loyalty, and love.  We are, it says, “the apple of God’s eye.” God called Abraham “my beloved.” And one of the most beautiful expressions of God’s unconditional love was formulated by Isaiah: “Though the mountains may depart or the hills be removed, neither will my love for you ever die or my covenant of friendship ever be broken.” And even those sexy words of the lover to his beloved in the Song of Songs, were seen by the Rabbis as the words of God to God’s beloved Israel. 

#2. Does God speak the love language of “Quality Time?” In my opinion, all the time. Heck, God invented time! God offers presence , but too often we don’t make the effort to notice.  Only when Moses stopped and turned did he encounter God’s presence in the burning bush. Sometimes we just need to stop and turn to find the time God is offering us.

#3 Does God speak to us in the “Language of Giving?” A lot!

Just for perspective, for me, God is not the Old Guy in the sky who talks, thinks, and feels like us – only more so. God is in the processes which give reality to existence and existence to reality. God is in the power that calls life into being and growth, who embeds within creation and the human spirit a moral matrix, the One in whose oneness are we all one.

So I think that the gifts of existence, of life itself and all of its blessings, come down to a radical Source, a power and a process, without which, nothing could be. Rabbi Adin Steinsalz in his classic book on Jewish mysticism sees all of existence as an expression of God’s love. Thanks, God, for that amazing gift of existence. It’s great to be here!

We are blessed with so many gifts. And today we are grateful for the gift of forgiveness, a gift given in grace, ki ayn banu maasim – for we have not earned it.

#4 Does God give us “Gifts of Service?” I need to work a bit more on that concept. Much of human prayer is a shopping list of what the person wants the deity to do that is important to them. Many believe that if you pray hard enough and sincerely enough, that God will be moved to do for you what you want. I don’t think it really works that way, except of course, for when it does. Like I said, I am still working that one out.

#5. Does God speak the love language of “Physical touch?”

Again, not sure. I know that in some religions God has a physical thing going – but not ours.

So when you figure out your love language, be open to the possibility that God, or existence, or life might have been sending a message that you did not understand before as love.

And if those are the love languages God speaks, what are the love languages God understands? 

Does God need words of affirmation and praise to know and feel human love? A lot of religions think so – including ours. The Psalms, the prayerbook, the medieval piyutim (religious poems), are filled with words of affirmation, praise and love from us to God. The Rabbis say that we should each say 100 baruchs every day – 100 blessings of thanks and praise.

But really, if we do that, are we really speaking God’s love language? Do all these words matter to God? Does God need to hear our praise to feel loved? Or is the sincere heart behind the prayer most affirmative to God? Don’t know.  What I do know is that more than God has a need to receive our thanks and praise, we have a need to express them. We need to engender the attitude of gratitude and acknowledge the many gifts which ultimately come by reason of our being here in a world in which love and blessings can be found.

What about quality time? Does the quality time we dedicate, the presence we bring important to the Almighty? It appears so.  First of all, you are here, spending what I hope God would appreciate as quality time. (Except for the person in the back reading the newspaper.)

Another example of that is Shabbat. God Gave us Shabbat b’ahavah uvratzon, in love, and delight. And our accepting that gift means dedicating quality time – sacred time each week – to remember and think about the important stuff. Quality Shabbat time calls us to stop multitasking, to rest,  to join with community to celebrate the divinity behind creation and the dignity of being human.  I sense also that our quality time spent in Torah study also fills God’s love tank.

Does God need gifts in order to feel our love? Certainly, the ancients believed so. That is part of the motivation which went into the practice of sacrifice. But our prophets had a different view, like Isaiah whose God complains to Israel, “I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of male goats…  Bring no more vain offerings..  I cannot bear iniquity along with solemn assembly. Hosea’s God said it plainer, “For I desired loyal love, and not sacrifice.”

So gifts, no, service, yes. God feels our love when it is expressed in the form of the service we offer to God’s creation and created ones. When we feed the hungry, God feels our love. When we house the homeless, God knows we care. When we work for justice and pursue peace, when we make the world a better, fairer, more compassionate place, we send a message of love back to its ultimate source.

And does God share love through physical touch? Again, not sure how that would work. I just know that any love that we give or receive in any form is ultimately an extension of the love which motivated God to light the fuse to the Big Bang. You could say that our physical existence is a hug from God, as is the hug of anyone who sincerely loves.

You know, the prophet Micah in my bar mitzvah portion says it all, “Man has told you what is good, but what does God want of you? Only to do justly, to love acts of kindness, and to walk in humility with your God.”  

You know, I could not have said it better myself.


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