Love and Fear: What Does Judaism Teach Us? (Part 1)

Jewish Food for Thought

Jewish Food for Thought is a series of animations that distill Jewish teachings into a form that is accessible, entertaining, funny, and fresh. Created by Hanan Harchol, with study guides authored by Rabbi Leora Kaye, the project is funded by The Covenant Foundation, with fiscal sponsorship by The Foundation for Jewish Culture.

What is love really all about? Are there different kinds of love? How much does giving have to do with love? How much of love is about yourself, how much is about others and, what do fish have to do with it?!

Study Guide

Beginning with the earliest stories in the Torah, Judaism emphasizes the importance of finding someone to love and holding on to that relationship. In later biblical writings, a romantic notion of love and relationship is highlighted, even used allegorically to symbolize the relationship between the Jewish people and God. In this episode, Hanan and his parents discuss the meaning of real love and how to find it. Together they begin a conversation which ultimately leads Hanan to the realization that real love has to do with the act of giving rather than a calculation of what one can get out of the relationship.

It’s Not About You

One of the first concepts Hanan’s mother and father introduce is the idea that what we think of as love for another person may in actuality be a preoccupation with ourselves. While focusing on yourself is not necessarily bad, Hanan’s parents challenge him to decide whether the relationship Hanan is describing is really love. Using the midrash about fish love as their model, they push him to start thinking about the lesson of the Kotzker rabbi, Menachem Mendel Morgenstern (1787-1859, Poland).While this teaching about love is one of his best known, ironically he chose to live in near seclusion for the last twenty years of his life.

“You don’t love fish,…You love yourself!”

  1. Why is the surface feeling of joy around the fulfillment of wants and desires what some people understand as love?
  2. Hanan’s parents point out that focusing on one’s own needs is not what love is about. Are they correct? If so, why?
  3. In your opinion, what does love include? When you begin thinking about what love should include, do you find yourself starting to think more about what you are getting out of the relationship? If so, what does that mean?

Hanan defends himself by saying the following:

HANAN:’s complicated...I’m looking for something life is going in a different direction. It’s nobody’s fault...I just always had a certain picture in my mind, of what I want out of my life and what I want in a relationship...and honestly, what I think I really need, is to find myself, you know, I need to spend a little time...focusing on me right now.

  1. Are there points in your life when you have said or felt similar things?
  2. While Hanan’s parents tell him the focus on himself is why he is having a hard time achieving love, is there any legitimacy to what Hanan says? Are there times in life when focusing on oneself might be helpful? When does it get in the way?
  3. When have you found that letting go of your ego, and focusing on the other person, has enhanced a relationship?

Download the complete study guide (turn to page 54) and move on to part two of the "Love and Fear" series.