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17 - What is Love? Hopefully More than Baby Don't Hurt Me

In this episode, we wrap up our discussion about Jewish lifecycles by looking at love, relationships, and marriage.


Hey everyone. I'm Menachem Lehrfield and this is Zero Percent. We are now wrapping up our Jewish life cycles with a conversation about relationships, from a Jewish perspective. Specifically where we see the growth mindset research in the Jewish approach to relationships, the Jewish approach to marriage. And I hope that it will help enhance your relationships again, whether you're Jewish or not.
So we left off last episode talking about the difference between love and infatuation. We said, love is not blind, love is a magnifying glass. Just as your parents love you more than anyone else, they also see your faults more than anyone else. The thing that is blind is infatuation. If you recall, we talked about the three phases of every human experience. There's phase one, the male phase, which is all about quick flashes of inspiration. Then comes the middle phase, the phase where it's unclear and it's difficult and it takes work and effort. But in that phase, in that stage, things become real. And that's why it's so hard, that's why it takes work and effort. That is the stage and the phase where real life happens. That is the growth mindset at its best. It's about rolling up our sleeves and working hard. And then the beauty of phase three is I get to experience phase one again, but this time it's real. This time it's worked for, its earned.
The Rambam Maimonides uses the analogy to describe these three phases and the concept of inspiration in general. With the analogy of a person who's lost on a dark night, and imagine it's pitch black and you're lost trying to find your way home. And all of a sudden there's a flash of lightning. And in that instant, the entire sky lights up. I'm from Miami, we have these torrential downpours in the summer. And when you hear that crack of thunder followed by that lightning, that lights up the sky. You know what I'm talking about. The sky lights up and in that instant, you see everything clearly. But as soon as it comes, it goes. So now you have to reconstruct in your mind the way home. In that moment, in that instant, you saw everything clearly, you understood you have to move a little bit to the right and then go straight and then turn a little bit. And now you have to make your way home with the memory of what that all looked like when it was clear.
And then a little while later you get another flash of lightning and that allows you to course correct, and figure out how to get home. The same is true with life. You have those moments, those flashes of inspiration. But those are not real. It's not really light. You have moments where you see those things clearly. You have those moments where you feel inspired. But if I think that that inspiration is there to last forever, I'm setting myself up for a life of disappointment. The inspiration lasts exactly as long as it has to. And as soon as I think this is the way it's supposed to be, that's exactly when it ends.
So you might ask, "Why would God create the world that way? Why would the Almighty make us in a way that we have this artificial fake experience at the beginning of the process?" I think in relationships, we understand this analogy the best. What is infatuation? What is the initial stage of a relationship where we feel this deep romance? We feel all the feels. The fireworks and the feelings and the emotion, and just this walking on clouds experience. What is that? What is infatuation? It is, I think, the most tangible way we can understand phase number one. It is completely artificial, it's fake. So why would God give it to us?
And as soon as we think it's going to last forever, it doesn't. And then we say, "You know what? Maybe this relationship is not what I thought it was. Maybe it's broken. Or even worse, maybe I'm broken. Maybe she's broken." The Almighty gave us the gift of phase one to show us how great phase three can really be. It's a preview, it's a taste. Just like in the trailer, you get to see the best parts of the movie without watching the whole movie. Phase one is a trailer of phase three. But we can't skip the phase in the middle. We can't skip the work of phase two or else we'll never truly get to phase three. But if we do it right, phase three is just as remarkable and magical and exciting as phase one. But now it's real.
You see this all the time. You have a friend who's dating a girl and he tells you, "Oh, she is perfect." First of all, if you say someone is perfect, you know that is a red flag. But he says, "No, she is perfect. She's amazing. And she's funny. And I feel so great when I'm with her." And sometimes all those things are true, but more often than not, it's not true. And the friends are all looking at each other, like, "What does he see in her? This girl is a psycho." And yet he cannot see it. Why? Because he's infatuated. And as we said, infatuation is blind as a bat. And only once the relationship is over, does the guy say, "What was I thinking? She was totally wrong for me. But I couldn't see it because the three parts of my soul were not in the proper order. I wasn't thinking with my head."
Once a person enters that infatuation stage, it's so hard to think clearly. And what makes it even worse? What makes it even more difficult is when the relationship becomes physical. Because as soon as it becomes physical, now I am completely lost hook, line and sinker. When we think that stage one, infatuation, is really love. When we confuse love and infatuation, we make really bad choices. The reality is that real love takes a lifetime to build. In describing Isaac and Rebecca's relationship, the Bible tells us that Rebecca became his wife and then he loved her. And many people look at this verse and they say, "It's out of order. Surely he loved Rebecca first and only then married her. Why would he have married her if he didn't love her?"
What it's teaching us is that true love takes a lifetime to build. And in Judaism marriage comes first. If your wedding day is the happiest day of your life, then don't get married. I tell this to every single couple that I marry. Every single time I officiate a wedding, my blessing to the bride and groom is that this should not be the happiest day of your life. If it is, don't do it. And we see this so often, couples who live together for years and decades and they're happy and everything's great. And then all of a sudden they get married and within six months they're divorced. What went wrong? Now that they're married, things became real. Now there's a real level of commitment. And you know what? Relationships are hard. Relationships take work.
The problem is that we grow up with these ridiculous ideas that we get from fairy tales. I mean, just look at the story of Cinderella for a second. Years ago I was reading ... I wasn't actually reading, you'll see in a second. But I was tucking in my daughter, [Rahel 00:08:23] she was maybe three at the time, now she's 11. So this was a while ago. And we were laying down in her bed getting ready to go to sleep. And I had on my iPad this ebook which was the story of Cinderella. And it basically had the pictures and you pushed the button each page and it would read the words and continue to the next page. And I don't think I truly understood how stupid the story of Cinderella was until I heard this ebook reading it to my daughter. To Disney's defense, they did a much, much better job with the remake of Cinderella, with the real characters.
But at least in the original story, you have a prince who's looking for a princess. He dances with this girl and she runs off leaving behind a glass slipper. And they search the kingdom high and low, trying to find the girl whose foot fits in the glass slipper. And they're trying it on the ugly stepsisters and stop for a second and think about that. He wants to marry this woman, he doesn't even remember what she looks like. He can't pick her up out of a lineup. You're telling me the ugly stepsister who looks nothing like Cinderella, maybe that's her. I don't know. We're reading this page after page and at least in this book version, the prince is actually going along through the process. He doesn't know what the girl looks like. He knows nothing about her or aspirations or her thoughts or ideals or the things that are important to her. And yet he wants to spend the rest of his life with this girl.
And then all of a sudden Cinderella comes out, she tries on the slipper, it fits. And then the prince says, "Oh, that's the girl." Flip to the next page, they're getting married. They're standing there under their altar or at the altar, under their ... not quite a chuppah, but looks like a chuppah. And the prince turns to Cinderella and says, "I love you." Because of course they always have English accents. And she looks to the prince and says, "I love you, too." And the next page, they all lived happily ever after. Are you kidding me? That is the worst ending to the worst story ever. They lived happily ever after. They don't even know each other. What is the statistic probability that they lived happily ever after? No, I bet you, the next morning they had some blowout fight over some miscommunication because they don't know each other. They know nothing about each other and they probably don't even like each other. And the whole basis of their relationship was that a stupid shoe fit on her foot. Or that the prince like dancing with her.
What they had at best was infatuation. How sad is it when I think that infatuation is really love. Because then I wake up one day and I say, "You know what? I married the wrong person. She's nothing like she was before." And as detrimental as a fixed mindset is in a relationship, it's even worse. Because now there are two people involved. The growth mindset says that all of these things can and need to be developed, they need to be worked on. All three components, both you, your partner and the relationship are all capable of growth and change. But in the fixed mindset, in the fixed mindset, we convince ourselves that if you have to work at it, it must not be meant to be. I married the wrong person. In the fixed mindset, when I see something wrong, I say, "You know what? It must be a character flaw. There's something wrong with you." And the blame game begins. Only in the growth mindset can I recognize that relationships take work. Like Isaac and Rebecca, love doesn't come right away.
My great-grandfather on some big anniversary, I don't know, let's say their 50th anniversary. Turned to his wife, my great-grandmother, and he said to her, "I have to make a confession. Last year on our anniversary, I lied to you." She said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Last year on our anniversary exactly a year ago, I said I loved you. And based on how much I love you today, it was a complete lie last year." That's real love. Now we didn't hear that story until many years later. I heard that story first when my great grandmother passed away at the Shiva, someone shared that story, one of the cousins. But that's love that takes a lifetime to build. It doesn't happen overnight.
There was a radio station, I think it was in Texas and they had a contest. You had to submit an original song that you wrote. And the winner would have their song professionally recorded and they would have publicity and all that good stuff. And the contest rules were very clear, you had to upload a video of you with this song, could be a music video or just you singing the song to YouTube. And the winner would, like we said, get their song recorded. The winner was actually somebody who did not follow the rules. They received a submission that didn't come by YouTube, it actually came in a Manila envelope. And for that matter, there was no music included, so it wasn't even a song. But it won anyway. The song is called Sweet Lorraine, you can actually find it on Apple Music and probably wherever you get your music. And it was written by a gentleman named Fred Stobaugh.
He was 96 years old and he just lost his wife and they had been together for 75 years. And he wrote this song, at least this poem, about sweet Lorraine, about his wife. And he won the contest. And that was so heartwarming and beautiful. Because where do you want your children to learn love from? From someone like Fred Stobaugh who had a 75 year relationship? Or from some pop star who has never seen a healthy relationship in her entire life? Our culture today is obsessed with the concept of love. It's the topic of all of our music and our movies and our books. And yet, there's nothing in any of that media that actually resembles real love.
Love takes work. Love takes effort. And love takes a lifetime to build. Love is built on a lifetime of giving. Love is about committing to see the virtue in the person. And from a Jewish perspective, marriage is not just the next stage of a relationship. Just because you're compatible with someone else, just because you like each other doesn't mean you should get married. Marriage is specifically to help make you into a better person. In Judaism, we believe in the concept of a soulmate. Marriage is about oneness. Judaism teaches that each part of the soul was actually fused together in a higher world. And then one part of the soul went into one body and the other part of the soul went into another body. And it's your job to work to bring those two parts of the soul back together.
Sex is just the physical manifestation of that spiritual reality. That just as the souls come together, the bodies come together to fuse the souls together. But it's about oneness. It's about a recognition and an awareness that I cannot do it on my own. I have a mission in life. I have a purpose for which I was created and my soulmate, my other half, my better half is there to help me reach our joint mission in this world. Marriage is here to help me become a better person. And that takes work. It takes work on myself and it takes work towards building a relationship. And the end result is hopefully my real love for my wife feels as ecstatic and exciting as it did when we first met.
The last stop on our lifecycle tour is old age. The greatest accolade a Sage can ever hope to achieve is to be called a [foreign language 00:17:27], which literally means a wise student. Can you imagine going up to a university professor and say, "Oh, you're such a great student." They would be offended. But not a Jewish Sage, that is the greatest title they can ever hope to achieve. After decades of toiling over Jewish texts, now I can call myself a wise student. Because when you learn in the words of Pocahontas, "You'll learn things you never knew, you never knew."
See you back here next week.

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