Our Gifts are God’s Love Language

February 24, 2023

Back in college, I took a sociology class called “Intimate Relationships,” an exploration of the nature of deep emotional connections and relationships. During this course, I was introduced to “The Five Love Languages,” a book written by relationship counselor, Gary Chapman. These are Words of Affirmation (like complements), Quality Time (doing shared activities), Receiving Gifts (presents!), Acts of Service (going out of your way to be helpful) and Physical Touch (hugs, holding hands, etc.). While often seen as a Myers-Briggs-type assessment, or a shorthand for a preference (ex. “Tacos are my love language”), I have found this model to be a helpful shorthand to articulate the essentials of how we as individuals prefer to express and receive love and care. To be clear, this doesn’t just apply to romantic partnerships; this model has been applied to platonic, parent-child and even professional relationships, helping individuals understand one another, and learn to “speak one another’s language.”

My big take-away from The Five Love Languages is this: most people have a “primary” Love Language, a way we prefer to express love and care, which is often (though not always) how we prefer to receive love. However, this does not always match up with how our partner/friend/child/colleague gives or prefers to receive love. And when we assume that everyone “speaks our language,” we often find ourselves disappointed or in tension with those we love. For example, let’s say your primary Love Language is “Words of Affirmation,” and your partner’s is “Acts of Service.” To you, positive feedback, complements, and kind words just “speak louder,” so even though your partner always does that household chore they know you don’t enjoy, a typical Act of Service, if they rarely give you those Words of Affirmation that you need, they are not “speaking your language.”

And this week’s Torah portion’s title, Terumah, gives us insight into God’s Love Language:

God speaks to Moses, and says, “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me תְּרוּמָ֑ה – a gift or an offering; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves [them]. And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, and silver, and copper; blue, and purple, and crimson yarns; fine linen, and goats’ hair; tanned ram skins, dolphin [maybe a translation error!] skins, and acacia-wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil, and for the aromatic incense; lapis lazuli, and other stones for setting, for the ephod, and for the breastplate. – וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם – And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”

God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites to bring terumot, gifts or offerings of materials to build the Tabernacle, or the Mishkan, the travelling sacred space in the wilderness and prototype for the future Temple in Jerusalem. So, is God’s Love Language “Gifts”? In short, not exactly… The key to understanding God’s Love Language is articulated beautifully by Rabbi Pinchas H. Peli (1930-1989), professor of Jewish Thought and Literature at the Ben-Gurion University, for the Israelites, contributing “materials for the building of a sanctuary […] serves an educational purpose: to convert the people from passive participants in their relationship with [God], as constant recipients of [God’s] gifts, into active partners… The in-dwelling of God among the people cannot take place as long as the people are passive and do nothing to help bring the sacred into the world… [We] must start out on the path towards God… in order for God to meet [us] half-way as [our] partner in the act of sanctification.” From here we learn that God’s Love Language is the terumah, not physical gifts, but the intention with which the offerings were given – from the heart, of whatever Israelite had to offer – that made the Mishkan sacred.

We have come a long way from the days in the wilderness, and yet the Jewish people still strives for connection with the Divine and for spiritual fulfillment. And while many of us may feel most connected to God in nature, or surrounded by family, we can also sense the sacred in the sanctuary that we are so blessed to have at Temple Ohabei Shalom, but we know it’s about more than the Torah scrolls and the beautiful dome. What makes TOS sacred is the community, our connections to its history and relationships with one another, which doesn’t just “happen.” It takes intentional investment to create and maintain those relationships, that connection, that sacredness.

We have many incredible members who have dedicated their time and energy to TOS in countless ways over the years, and to them, we say thank you! Keep doing what you’re doing! And to those who are newer, or have taken a passive approach to their community affiliation, or have been unsure how to give back, I invite you to take a page from this week’s parsha, and practice speaking God’s Love Language: make a wholehearted offering, an intentional investment of your most precious commodity – our time and our energy – to this community, in order to help us keep doing what we do best.

And good news: There are SO MANY terumot to offer! Here are just a few ideas…

  • Can we call on you to deliver meals or drive someone to a doctor’s appointment?
  • Will you commit to be a greeter at Shabbat services in the coming month?
  • Do you have a passion to bring to our Social Action committee?
  • Are you able to volunteer at our upcoming Purim shpiel on March 6th?

If any of the above speaks to you, or if you have another idea for a terumah, a way to give your time and energy to TOS, or want to talk through some ideas, please be in touch with me.

As always, thank you for making this sacred community what it is. We couldn’t do it without you.

Rabbi Jennifer Queen