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Ideas
April 4, 2016 10:59 AM EDT
Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, the author of eight books and has been named one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post.

More than 400 years ago poet Christopher Marlowe wrote in the voice of a shepherd trying to woo a young lady: “Come live with me and be my love,/ and we will all the pleasures prove.” A year later Sir Walter Raleigh wrote back in the voice of the young lady: “If all the world and love were young/ And truth in every shepherd’s tongue/ These pretty pleasures might me move/ To live with thee and be thy love.” The young lady did not believe the promises of the ardent shepherd, and so did the romantic and the cynic speak to one another in poetry.

Today the cynic is no less vocal. In my office each day I hear young men and women insist that promises are false, and love is not real. It is a chemical contrivance, it naturally fades, people are simply not made for monogamy, they tell me. They cite the rates of divorce and infidelity, sometimes with glee, as if the collapse of human hope is a triumph for reason, and other times with sadness or resignation.

Remarkably, however, the romantic continues to bloom in the soul of the cynic. Movies and books, even as they dissect the flaws in love, still celebrate it. The heart is by far the most-used emoji. We cannot escape the enchantment of love—even if we are are suspicious of it.

The same people who dismiss the reality of love still often find themselves in love, and many who were skeptics last year are engaged the next. You might think that other things like work or friendship would take the place of the infatuated state they distrust. But most of us are not looking for just any love—not only good friends, or embracing families. Human beings crave what the shepherd promises: an idyllic wonder, a world in which they are the focus, the single, special other. We want what the poet Auden said: “For the error bred in the bone/ of each woman and each man/ craves what it cannot have,/ not universal love/ but to be loved alone.” We don’t want our doctor to have other patients, our professor to have other students, our lover to look anywhere other than in our eyes.

In the Jewish wedding ceremony, the couple is compared to the original couple in the garden of Eden. Because for Adam and Eve in the biblical tale, there is literally no one else in the world. That cannot be in our lives, but it does not mean we lose the fervent wish.

Several times a month I stand before a couple under the chuppah and marry them. Any good actuary will predict that some of them will get divorced, others will be unhappy, and all will face challenges. As someone who has been divorced myself, you might think I stand there with a drop of disbelief. Yet repeatedly I find myself swept into the moment, overcome by the beauty and hope invested in two people dedicating their lives to one another. I have arbitrated enough breakups to know what the end can be, how sad or embittered. Yet I also know that these two people are in fact touching each other’s lives forever, changing each other, intertwining their destinies in this world. Even if it is not a first marriage, the combination of aspiration and ardor sweeps one away. I can almost see the lavender string of devotion reaching heart to heart, and those surrounding the couple see it as well.

Love is not simple, or straightforward, or certain. But it has the power to banish cynicism and reassert itself anew, and I wonder if somewhere, in the land where poems dwell, that shepherd did not in the end manage to take the young lady’s hand, and live with her, and be her love.

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