With the Toil Goes the Reward: A Jewish Take on Valentine’s Dayby Rabbi Jacob Rupp February 1, 2019
Is there a Jewish way to celebrate Valentine’s Day?
In the highly assimilated state of the Jewish world, the fact that most Jews would even stop to think about the appropriateness of celebrating a holiday named after a Christian saint is a big accomplishment! But go on, ask the question. Do Jews need a Christian holiday (SAINT Valentine’s Day) to rekindle desire? Ask the follow up, even more Jewish question—do we need to spend money to show love?
I’d venture the say perhaps and yes.
Who is your “valentine?”
Besides bringing up some PTSD from our middle school days, sometimes we forget we are married to someone. Sure, we know our spouses, but do we really know them? Or is it the kind of thing that once you’ve gotten into the relationship, you start to take them for granted?
Start by considering whom you are with. Have they changed over the course of the time you have been together? Have you given them the space and freedom to express themselves? Do you express yourself?
The challenge for so many of us is that we don’t create “safe spaces” for expression. We know how our beloved will respond and we tailor ourselves around them, or we expect them to be either explicitly or implicitly who they always were in order to create “peace in the home.”
But shalom bayit, or peace in the home, isn’t for the faint of heart or those of us who don’t feel comfortable with ourselves or who their spouses might be. While you may only get married once, committing to your partner is a daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes by the minute experience. It means reaffirming your love, your care and your appreciation for your spouse. It also means thinking about what makes your spouse comfortable above all, even when that means perhaps not going to a business dinner with that colleague of the opposite sex, or leaving your kids home with your spouse while you go take a pleasure trip with an old roommate.
Now of course, this doesn’t mean you should never have fun, be yourself, or never have fun without your spouse. Rather it’s a mindset and a path in life. Oftentimes if your partner is upset, it’s because you haven’t done enough to show them love, appreciation or admiration. You need to start recognizing them. Being there for them. And no, it’s never too late to start again (or even for the first time). If you mess up your healthy eating plan during one meal, it doesn’t mean the rest of the day, week, or life is beyond help.
When you focus on who your beloved is, and how to make them happy, comfortable and successful (yes, even if you don’t get that back immediately from them), you would be shocked to see how happy they become and how much easier it becomes to communicate. Rather than looking to win, look to understand. Look to listen.
There were times when my wife would ask, “Do you love me?” To which I would respond “yes,” or “of course.” But in my mind, I would think, “Isn’t this obvious? Like I married you, I work to provide for our family, I try to be a good dad, etc., etc., etc.” But this dialogue suggests that I was (am) someone who isn’t looking to communicate or to listen. I should have heard that I should tell my wife I love her MORE. I should act in more loving ways MORE.
The Jewish way in love and marriage is the idea that our partners are our mirrors. G-d tailor picks our relationships for us for the sake of making us better. If our partner is anxious, it’s our job to work on being more comforting. If our partner gets irritable, it’s our job to learn how to communicate in a less annoying way. In no way does this idea take away from our personal responsibility to be calm, happy and perfect. And it’s not up to our spouse to fix any of our problems; rather our relationships are tools to help us become more giving, more happy, better people of G-d. Not, by the way, to take for ourselves.
And what about buying gifts for your beloved? There is a notion that Valentine’s Day is just a commercial opportunity. Could something like love be concretized into something like a gift? A trinket? A flower? You’re darn tootin’! While buying things is no substitute for actually caring and being a good person/husband/wife, it definitely makes your spouse feel like you thought about them, care for them and value them.
So worst case scenario, think about your beloved once a year. Buy them something nice once a year. If it’s on Feb 14, OK—but that isn’t so Jewish. Valentine’s day, like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day aren’t once a year opportunities. They are usually weekly, daily or even by the minute chances to get closer to our loved once and become better versions of ourselves.