By the author of the Bilvavi series
In the words of Chazal, as well as in the works of philosophy [brought by the Rambam], there is an argument about what true love is. Do you love someone who is similar to you, or do you love someone who is different than you? In actuality, both reasons are true: there is love for similarities/similar attraction (ahavas hadomeh), and there is also love for differences/opposite attraction (ahavas hashoneh). However, there is another kind of love, which is deeper than the above two. It is not about loving someone who is similar to you, and it is not about loving someone who is refreshingly different than you. It is to love another person intrinsically (ahavas etzem). Similar attraction or opposite attraction are both sue to external factors. A person can love another because he sees similarities between them, or he loves another for being different than him, so he realizes that marrying that person will complete him. But when you love someone for just being who he is, this is not due to any similarities between you, nor is it due to any opposite attraction. It is simply a kind of love that has no rhyme or reason to it.
Thus, there are three kinds of love: to love another when he is different than you (ahavas hashoneh), to love another when he is similar to you (ahavas hadomeh), and to love another person intrinsically, for no reason (ahavas etzem). The first kind of love, ahavas hashoneh, is a logical kind of love: a person can love another who is different than him, because he realizes that unifying with him will improve his deficiencies, so he sees the other like his “missing puzzle piece.” The second kind of love, ahavas hadomeh, is also logical: you are attracted to each other because you are similar to each other. But the third kind of love, ahavas etzem, has no logical reason motivating it. It is to love another person for no reason - just as you love yourself for reason.
It is written [concerning the creation of Chavah], “For from man this woman was taken, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, thus she is called woman, for from man this one has been taken.” The possuk shows us the three kinds of love in a marriage (1) “Bone of my bone”; (2) “Flesh of my flesh” and (3) “For from man this one has been taken.” These three terms are each parallel to the one of the three kinds of love that we spoke of. “Opposite attraction” is a love based on externalities; you are loving the person for being different than you, so there is still an acknowledgement here of a separation between “you” and the “other.” If the other person is different than you, he/she is [somewhat] your opposite. The differences can of course be a catalyst to unite the two of you together, but the love itself here is still based on external factors, so it is not intrinsic. Man and woman have opposite natures, as is well-known. There are many ways how we see it. The well-known difference between them is that men work with rational intellect, whereas women are more inclined toward emotion. There are many other differences as well. But the point is always the same: they are natural opposites. The part of the possuk that says “For from man, this one was taken” refers to the love that comes from opposite attraction: man’s body was divided into two, forming the creation of woman. Man and woman are like two puzzle pieces that need to come back together. They are not similar to each other; their very difference is what clicks the two pieces together. This is the concept behind the opposite attraction that husband and wife can feel to each other. The second aspect of marriage is, “flesh of my flesh” – similar attraction. When something is similar to me, I feel like it is part of me. However, it is still not yet intrinsically part of me. It is only ‘flesh of my flesh’ – it is a part that is similar to me, and that allows the two points to unite, but it s still not yet an intrinsic part of me. But the third kind of love is, “bone of my bone.” When Adam said this, he was saying that my love towards Chavah is because “she is me.” It is these three kinds of love which we must become familiar with in marriage: (1) Ahavas HaShoneh (opposite attraction), in which husband and wife see how they are each different, and their differences complete each other; (2) Ahavas HaDomeh (similar attraction), in which husband and wife are attracted to each other due to their similarities they discover in each other; (3) Ahavas Etzem (intrinsic love), which stems from the fact that man can identify his wife as being “one” with him – “bone of my bone.”
All Three Kinds Of Love In Marriage Must Be Present
Now we will emphasize the following point which must be clear: These are not three different “options” of how you can love your spouse. You need all three kinds of love, together, in your marriage. When a person is engaged to become married, he/she will always notice how the other is similar to him/her in certain ways, as well as being different in certain ways. One kind of person will enjoy the fact that he/she is marrying a person with a different nature, because it will feel refreshingly different, whereas the similarities will not seem exciting, because maybe he/she is not looking to marry someone who has the same qualities as himself/herself. Another kind of person will only feel attracted towards similarities, and does not find the differences in the other to be appealing. The true perspective towards marriage, though, is that there must be both aspects of similar attraction and opposite attraction towards each other; and in addition, they will also need to develop a third kind of love, which is to love the other person on an intrinsic level. The truth is that nobody can survive marriage if they would only love the other based on being different or similar. Opposite attraction cannot be everything. If a person were to marry someone who is 100% different than him, his marriage simply will not last. (In fact, one of the reasons given for the prohibition in the Torah that one may not cohabit with an animal, is because animal is the total opposite of man, and one cannot bond with something that is totally different than him). There must be aspects of similarity between them, in order for them to bond. It is impossible for one to feel any mutual closeness with a person who is totally different than him. The same goes for similar attraction: it is impossible for marriage to thrive on similar attraction alone, when there is no appreciation of differences in the other’s personality. Chazal say, “Just as no faces are similar to each other, so are no de’os (ways of thinking) similar to each other.” No two people are exactly the same; there will always be differences. There is no table or chair that is exactly the same, and surely no two people can ever be the same. (If someone else is the same exact as me, he wouldn’t be “him” – he would be “me”). Therefore, either one of these two kinds of love, by themselves, cannot be enough to sustain marriage. A person loves something only when he sees similarity to himself, as well as differences to himself, in it. The only question is in the percentages, but both kinds of love must be present, in order to form a loving connection. Either of these two kinds of love are both logical kinds of love; there is human gain involved in both of these kinds of love. But they are not intrinsic kinds of love. Opposite attraction involves our analytical thinking process. In order to love someone who is different than you, you need to understand your opposing viewpoint, which takes some wisdom on your part. (Chazal say that even understanding how a fool thinks takes wisdom to understand, because a fool also has a certain way of thinking, and one has to be wise to know how to understand him.) Similar attraction is pretty obvious, and it doesn’t involve any deep thinking. But both opposite attraction and similar attractions are logical kinds of love, which are arrived at using human intellect.
It is written, “With wisdom, a home is built” – when one has wisdom, he knows how to love another whether the other is similar or different. However, with wisdom alone, a person won’t be able to love another person intrinsically. Why not? To illustrate, imagine we place a painting in front of a person, and the person likes the painting. If we ask him why he likes the painting, he will say, “This painting is about a certain kind of scenery, and I love to see this kind of scenery.” Or, if a person says that he likes a certain table, and we ask him, he will say, “Because I love its color.” He can identify clearly what exactly he loves about it. But what about the love that a person has for himself – is there a reason that one can give for it? Why does a person love himself? Can he explain it or give a logical reason for it? There is no logical explanation. We are simply born with a nature to love ourselves. The sefarim hakedoshim describe selflove as “love that is above reason and intellect.” With similar attraction or opposite attraction, the love is conditional, because you have some reason of why you love the object of your love. If that reason would vanish, you would no longer love that object. But when you love yourself, you don’t love yourself based on any conditions. If someone loves himself based on certain conditions, we all recognize this as a deep emotional issue. An emotionally healthy person loves himself whether he is successful or whether he fails. He might have his highs and lows, joyful times and sad times, but his self-love never changes. He accepts himself as he is, and he loves himself without any specific reason. When a person feels that he loves his child or his spouse, he might say that it is because he finds them to be enjoyably different than him [“My wife, and my children, are so unique and special - they are everything that I am not. They have all the qualities I wished I had”]. Or, he might say that he finds them to be similar to him [“I see myself in them”]. But there is a deeper kind of love towards a spouse or a child, which cannot be explained: it is a love that has no reason to it! It is the kind of love which is often concealed from the spouses. We will try to explain about it. Changing Our Motivations In Marriage All of us, when we get married, are not going to get married to a spouse who steps out of a packaged box when we get to the chuppah; we cannot get married if we have never seen or spoken to the person whom we are marrying. We do research, we get to know each other, we find what we are happy with, and then we decide to get married. Whether we get married due to similar attraction or opposite attraction, we are all getting married because we have felt some kind of attraction to the other person. We might feel attracted to his/her physical qualities, or to the emotional or spiritual qualities that we see in the other. That being the case, the marriage will become conditional, and our love in turn for our spouse will be conditional. If he/she is what I had in mind, then good, and if not - one feels that he has been duped into the marriage. Usually, all of us realize that we made some mistakes about our future spouse, and we see that he/she is not what we imagined. And then we are faced with a dilemma: we feel like we never would have gotten married to this person we married, had we known that he/she is not what exactly what we thought.
Did we get married because we loved the other for just being who he is? We can all answer, absolutely, “No.” As proof, if we would get married to another out of an intrinsic love for him/her, we would have married the first person we met without doing any research, because intrinsic love does not depend on personality or looks. None of us can say that we got married out of an intrinsic love for our spouse. We got married because we found some elements of opposite attraction and some similar attraction, and based upon that, we have built our marriage. We must know that both of these kinds of love – similar attraction and opposite attraction – are meant to bring us to a greater goal. They are meant to get us motivated to uncover the deeper aspect of marriage – ahavas etzem, the intrinsic love. If a person goes his whole marriage and only knows of either similar attraction or opposite attraction, he has missed the goal of marriage, and the goal of life, as well. Chazal say, “A person should always study Torah and do mitzvos shelo lishmah (not for the sake of Heaven), for from shelo lishmah comes lishmah (for the sake of Heaven).
The meaning of shelo lishmah is explained as seeking what’s comfortable for us. With regards to marriage, the shelo lishmah aspect is that we are comfortable marrying someone who is different than us, because it is refreshing. But the lishmah aspect of marriage is to arrive at an intrinsic love for the other spouse. Our avodah is always to start with shelo lishmah and then we can be lead towards lishmah. There is a well-known interpretation of the Nefesh HaChaim on this concept, that a person “always” has an element of shelo lishmah. (For example, when a person is getting married, he is getting married for some ulterior motive: either because the other is similar, or refreshingly different). But the eventual purpose which the couple must strive for is to reach a kind of love between them that is lishmah: to love each other for no reason – ahavas etzem.
Marriage enables a person to leave his original state of ayin and then come back to ayin: he first leaves himself, by joining with another, and then he returns to his essence, by arriving at oneness with each other. This, of course, will entail challenging and inner work. To be even more specific, it is the work of a lifetime. This is because the less challenges a person faces in his marriage, the further he actually is from achieving unity with his spouse, and then he is further from reaching the goal of life.