Today is Valentine’s Day, traditionally associated with expressions of love. I wouldn’t normally speak about it because it’s not a Jewish day. Its history goes back to the early Christian martyrs, then the age of chivalry, and through Chaucer to Shakespeare’s Ophelia. It’s a lovely day, just not ours.
But this year I’ve been unusually conscious of the joy that comes through love. It’s just over 50 years since I met, fell in love with and proposed to Elaine, and this year we’ll celebrate our golden wedding. Recently we took our children and grandchildren away for a weekend and on Sunday morning we took a walk together along the Thames.
Then I realised that Elaine and I used to take just this walk when we were first married, and we hadn’t done so since, and I suddenly had an intense experience of being taken back across the years to then, when we were young. At that time, we had no idea where the path was taking us. Then I looked up and came back to the present and saw the figures ahead of us on the path: our children and grandchildren, our joy.
I wondered what had kept us on that path, and instinctively I knew. First, we thanked God for every good thing that happened to us. Social scientists tell us that bad events have four or five times as much impact as good ones. So it’s important to equal the score by celebrating the good.
Second, we find something to praise in each other – something the other one has done – every single day. We learned this, oddly enough, from a speech therapist who taught us that daily praise within a family gives everyone the confidence to change and grow.
And third, forgive. Most of us have much that needs to be forgiven, and how can that happen unless we ourselves are prepared to forgive.
These things became daily rituals. As the American writer David Brooks puts it, commitment is falling in love with someone or something and then building a structure of behaviour around it for the moment when love falters. Tending it daily keeps the flame of love alive.
We have a tradition in Judaism that every weekday Jewish men recite the lovely words of the prophet Hosea. “I will betroth you to me forever.” That is our daily valentine, between us and God, between us and those we love. And it’s love that guides our feet along the path to joy.