Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

What it is

Posted by Ron Coleman on January 21, 2008

I wrote this post on Dean’s World in September, 2006, and I had forgotten about it. While pondering the question again, however, I came upon it. It generated a good discussion there and then, and we hardly resolved the issue, and we never will. I have updated it a little, though, because I’m a little older now.

What is love?

Goethe and merry go round

The easy ones, don’t even tell me about — such as how you love your kids. That’s very real, but let’s face it, it’s basically hard wired, though if you are fortunate, it grows in intensity as your children develop into genuine people whom you can love in the way I mean to ask the question about here.

What is it that makes you stick to people you love — care about their welfare the way you do your own, enjoy watching them eat, bleed red blood for them?

What makes you keep doing all these things no matter how much of that blood you lose?

The ultimate Jewish super-genius — no, not him; rather, the Gaon of Vilna, Rabbi Elijah of Vilna — elucidated the types of love:

There exists the love of a useful person (such as relatives), the love of a pleasant person (such as the love of a woman), the love of what is good (such as the love of those with good character traits). And there is also the love we return when we feel that others love us, loving in return like the reflecting water surface, the face according to the face. For this reason , was it said, “my sister” (a useful person), “my friend” (a pleasant person), “my dove” (beautiful character traits), “my perfect one” (reacting like the reflecting waters, the face according to the face) — in the Song of Songs 5:2.

The highlighted part is also from Solomon — it is Proverbs 27:19, which the Gaon was commenting on in the above passage. As I get older and scraped up and the grooves wear into me, I can’t think of a better definition of love.

“Loving in return like the reflecting water surface, the face according to the face.” It is astonishing to think of the Vilna Gaon saying this, because you must appreciate the fact that there was no one in the world like the Vilna Gaon in his time, or probably since. There was no face, superficially speaking, like his face.

This property of uniqueness is technically true of anyone, of course, but obviously I mean it in a different sense when writing about the Gaon. He wasn’t just the smartest person you actually know. He was the smartest person and, unlike many very smart people, the holiest.

And yet… and so… he knew. The Gaon knew as cold hard fact, as he did everything he wrote, and far more — of the love that is reflected in “the face according to the face.”

This is the fact that proves he was right.

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