There are many reasons to not like Valentine's Day. Whether the overload of commercials equating love with flowers and chocolates, pressure to find the right gesture to reflect your what someone means to you, or the challenge of finding oneself alone. Not to mention the obscure back story of St. Valentine, which has something to do with a priest being beheaded, and seems far removed from Hallmark cards and candlelight dinners. However, this year I find myself thinking differently about this meaningless day set aside to highlight love. This year, the evening of Feb. 14 coincides with a day that for me and some of my dearest friends is anything but meaningless. And yet this evening has everything to do with love, even romance. This evening is the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Adar, marking 17 years since my beloved friends Matt Eisenfeld and Sara Duker were murdered by Hamas terrorists who bombed a bus in Jerusalem.
Each year when I think about my friends many images come to mind, many of them involving their incredible commitment to a life lived with purpose and bettering the world. Sara was a graduate of Barnard, passionate about science and the environment, as well as struggling with the questions at the heart of the Jewish tradition. Matt was a classmate and study partner of mine in rabbinical school, who combined a formidable capacity for discipline and intellectual rigor, profound humility and a great joy in engaging in the practices of being Jewish. They were both suffused with great compassion for others and a talent for putting their dreams into action. And, somehow more than anything else, they loved each other.
Many of the official reports described Matt and Sara as engaged, but if they were it wasn't known to many of their friends. What I do know is that only weeks before the day they were killed, they came to speak to my wife, Tracie, and me about what we loved about being married. The question did not reveal a skepticism about marriage, but instead showed how they approached their relationship with depth and thoughtfulness. For us, as newlyweds, it was not only an honor to be among those they looked to for such wisdom, but a reminder to keep asking ourselves -- despite that neither of us felt equipped to fully answer the question at that time.
However, as significant a connection I feel about the deepest and loftiest aspects of Matt and Sara's love for each other, what resonates with me on this particular Valentine's Day is how romantic, lighthearted, even silly they were together and as individuals. Matt had been my roommate the first year of rabbinical school. The night I proposed to Tracie, I needed him to buy time while I made sure everything was in place for the big moment. He decided to stall her by pretending to have just written a poem for Sara. Tracie politely smiled, listening to this quickly cobbled together bunch of rhyming lines. While Matt had written many more elegant verses expressing what was in his heart, it is those verses that will always stand out to me as the ultimate love poetry. Similarly, those who knew both Sara and Matt will always remember them for silly hats, spontaneous songs and hilarious Purim costumes just as much as for academic excellence, tremendous kindness and true friendship.
This is what is meant by the searing words of the biblical section known as The Song of Songs: "Place me as a seal upon your heart ... for love is fiercer than death." Not only do we find that our bond with those we love survives even being bereft of them. We also realize that the absurdity that is the love between two people can somehow be more certain, more powerful, more transformative even than death itself.
The Song of Songs, with its sensuous and moving descriptions of the love between two people, is understood by tradition to describe the love between the Jewish people and G*d. If all of the Scriptures are Holy, says one rabbi, then the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies. This Shabbat we will read the Torah portion which in fact describes the building of the structure that is that sacred meeting place between G*d and the Jewish people. Like the Song of Songs, the decriptions are detailed and emphasize the physicality, the beauty and the sensuousness of this place of encounter. In these descriptions we see again that love, whether for another or for G*d is not abstract, it is real, personal and full of life.
To delight in another person is not frivolous -- it is a gateway into what gives the world meaning. It is for that reason that I believe so deeply that there is holiness in all loving relationships, and why, in particular, there is a need to ensure marriage equality for same-sex relationships. And it is why on this Valentine's Day I feel more compelled to celebrate what I love about love and engage in the holy frivolity that reminds me of my dear friends. May their memories be a blessing to all who knew them, all they touched and the entire world.