Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 19 November 2022 / 25 Cheshvan 5783

Marriage and Love

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Love and marriage, the lyrics teach, go together like a horse and carriage. If the implication is that love is the horse and marriage is the carriage, Judaism will disagree.

The vast majority of this week’s Torah portion concerns itself with the story of Yitchak and Rivka’s courtship and marriage. When Rivka returns with Avraham’s servant Eliezer, Yitzchak marries her, and for the first time, the Torah describes love between a man and wife:Yitzchak brought [Rivka] into the tent of Sarah, his mother. He married Rivka, she became his wife, and he loved her, and only then was Yitzchak comforted for his mother.

Notice how the marriage precedes the love. First, he brings her into his mother’s tent, then he marries her, then she becomes his wife, and only then does he love her. This marriage of the first Jewish son describes the model formation of a Jewish marriage, built on foundations of reason, judgment and emotional compatibility — and not on the basis of passion or sensuality.

For centuries the Jewish way has been for parents and relatives to consider whether the two young people are suited to each other — based on their character, commitments, life visions, goals, temperaments. If the couple indeed finds those sparks of connection, their love forms after they marry, and that love increases as they come to know each other. The more Rivkacame to be his wife, the more Yitzchak loved her.

When blind “love” — driven by ungrounded physical or emotional passion — is the starting point of commitment in marriage, often, each step deeper into the relationship brings with it new disillusionment.

Not so in the Jewish marriage, where love is the culmination, not the beginning of the relationship. [Yitzchak] married Rivka, she became his wife, and he loved her. Marriage is only the beginning.

The next words, writes Rav Hirsch, “have remained and will remain unsurpassed in beauty and glory” until the end of time: and then [Yitzchak]was comforted for his mother. A forty-year old man, inconsolable over the death of his aged mother, finds consolation in his wife! With Sarah’s death, the nurturing feminine spirit — the spirit that guides and molds and supports and cares — departed from the home. It is this spirit that is the connection that man truly seeks when he goes out in search of “love.” His tent has been filled again, and so has his heart.

  • Source: Commentary, Genesis 24:67

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