Healthy relationships don’t generally come naturally. They take work. Hard work. And conscious thought before, during and after interactions.
The more trust that is built, the more one’s inner dimensions can be exposed and shared. And in doing so, the more vulnerable that person becomes. Yet, love requires that risk. The greater the risk, the greater the potential. And if love is what one wins, then it is more than worth it.
In a certain sense, one could say that the world was created for love. The world was created for us to learn to love ourselves and one another. One allusion to this is that the very last letter in the Torah is a Lamed and the first letter is a Beit, which spell the word lev, meaning “heart”. The heart, the symbol for love, is at the beginning and end of everything. It is the be all and end all.
It is therefore imperative that we learn from all times and situations how to love. How to have healthier and happier relationships. It is during the Hebrew month of Adar that we celebrate the holiday of Purim. The word ‘Adar’ shares the same root as the word ‘adir’, meaning ‘strength’. It takes strength to love properly, to love fully. It requires the ability to be dedicated to another.
In every 19-year cycle in the Jewish calendar, 7 of these years are called “pregnant years” in which there are two months of Adar (like this year). While pregnancy, in the physical sense, is ideally an outcome of love, it also represents love itself. It is the concept of recognizing that we do not only live for ourselves, but that all we do affects another. Just as the womb is center in the body, so too, is sharing one’s center required in a relationship. Pregnancy is the ability to put another at your center.
During the month(s) of Adar, we are taught that we must increase in our joy. During a pregnant year, two months provide us with sixty full days of unadulterated joy. Sixty is a powerful number. In the laws of kosher food, there is the concept that anything is nullified when it is 1/60th of the total. Practically, this means that while meat and milk cannot be cooked together, if a drop of milk unintentionally falls into a pot of chicken soup, as long as there is sixty times more soup than milk, then the milk is considered nullified. In such a case, the soup is still kosher.
In this same vein, relationships are never perfect. But they can be perfect for us. We feel this way when we learn to nullify the aspects that we do not love by those which we do love. When we see a person in totality, all of his or her attributes and all he/she does for us, then we should be able to use those things to outweigh and overcome what annoys us. Maybe you were late to the party because it took her too long to get ready. Maybe he forgot to take out the trash even though you left it by the door. Yet if we love the other, we should be able to find sixty times more good to nullify what we are not crazy about. If we don’t see our relationship in such a way, then our love should push us to increase the positive until we do. And more often than not, the good is already there—it just needs to be cultivated and revealed.
So how do we know when it is true love? How can we determine if we are letting ourselves fall for the right person?
That is where we can glean lessons from the heroine of the Purim story, which takes place during Adar. During our month of joy, we recount how we came very close to being destroyed, and we celebrate our miraculous redemption from near-annihilation.
At the crux of this story is Esther, whose name means “hidden”. On the surface, this reflects how she has to hide her true identity as a Jew so that she is able to survive in the palace of the king. But there is more. She very consciously chooses to hide not only who she is, but how she thinks and feels, until she is convinced it is the safe and proper time to reveal what is in her mind, heart and soul.
Esther is well aware that the secret to her success is in her timing. And because of that, she is incredibly careful to never lose track of time and what must be done. The commentaries explain that even though she hid that she was a Jew, she was able to observe all of the laws of Shabbat, for she made sure that each day, she had different women working for her so that the ones always present on Friday evening and Saturday would not suspect that her behavior was unusual. That was all they knew, so that was what they expected from her.
Being able to know what to do and when to do it is essential. When we rush in a relationship, we risk scaring the other person away. So too, when it is time to make a commitment and move forward, if one is not willing to take that step, it can ruin everything.
Esther’s acute awareness of time shows that she never allows her emotions to dictate her decisions. She makes decisions that are rational, that are based in her intelligence and that resonate with her heart, but she does not act out of pure feelings. This is perhaps the greatest test in any relationship. When the heart is engaged, it is so easy to “fall”, and yet, when the emotions rule over the intellect, it becomes impossible to make decisions that are sound. Scientists have proven that love affects the same areas of the brain as drugs. Falling in love is a time of intense feeling—even joy—but true joy is a love that is everlasting, not one that is a temporary high which can come crashing down when reality hits.
Esther teaches us to not only ensure our minds rule over our hearts when building a relationship of love, but that we should also recognize that sometimes, not expressing everything allows us to reveal our inner truth. While this might seem contradictory, saying or showing too much actually blinds our ability to focus on what is most important and central.
Esther’s name means ‘hidden’ from the term ‘hester’, and yet, through her process of concealment, the end result is a complete revelation of the situation. She is so attune and aware of what others can handle that she realizes if the truth is stated outright, it will not be believed. Therefore, she must consciously hide the truth until others are ready and willing to see for themselves what she could have easily told them a while earlier. Once again, this alludes to the importance in having proper timing, as saying either the right thing at the wrong time or too much when one is not ready results in the opposite of true communication, which is to bring two people closer and that much more aware and in tune with one another.
Every part of the celebration of Purim teaches us how to love more fully and be more present. We have four Purim commandments: 1. to give gifts to the poor, 2. to give packages of ready-to-eat food to our friends, 3. to eat a festive meal, and 4. to hear the Megillah twice.
Being able to recognize what one needs and to be empathetic to a person less fortunate than ourselves is essential in a healthy relationship. We are all poor in different ways, and in need of someone to help provide us with what we lack. Learning how to give to others, and to receive when given to, is fundamental to love. This is why one of the sub-roots of the word love, ‘ahava’, is ‘hav’, meaning ‘to give’.
Along with giving, we provide ready-to-eat foods to our friends. While this also seems to represent the process of giving, more importantly, it is the ability to distinguish between one who is poor and in need of money and one who is not in need of a gift to survive, but rather, we are giving him/her a gift to represent gratitude and respect, and to acknowledge the importance that the person plays in our lives.
The idea of the meal is the concept of being able to internalize and integrate joy (when we eat, we break down and digest the food, which in this case is representative of what sustains us).
And finally, we must hear the Megillah. If we miss even a word, it does not count in our fulfillment of the obligation to hear it read. If we want to connect with another, we must learn to listen. To truly hear. And not just what we want to hear, not just part of the conversation, but every single word, and in the order it is being presented. Active listening is a challenge. Yet when we allow ourselves to receive what the other is trying to provide for us with his/her words, we can then begin to understand the other on a much deeper level. The Megillah is named after Esther, as Megillat Esther represents ‘megaleh ha’hester’, to reveal what is concealed.
So to recap: If you want a healthy relationship, make sure you have the following—strength, joy, patience, timing, the ability to give, distinguish needs and receive, and through proper concealment, to ultimately reveal the deepest dimensions of your mind, heart and soul to the other.