The journey to find true and lasting love is one that most people travel at least once in their lifetime. The need to give love and to be loved is one of those facets of life that we can’t seem to live without. Love is universal and speaks to people of all races, religions, creeds, and backgrounds. Stories about love have found their way among the main themes in literature, songs, and movies and are popular discussion topics in even the most serious magazines and newspapers. The desire to create and maintain true and enduring love has forever been a hallmark of the human spirit.
The Torah, in many places called “Torat Chaim-The Living Torah,” shares an opinion and practical approach on how to foster a healthy relationship and develop this long and everlasting true love. In this week’s Torah portion we find an incredible and wise insight as to what true love should be about. After Abraham acquires a burial plot for his beloved wife Sarah, he turns his attention to finding a wife for his son Isaac. The Torah relates to us Eliezer’s journey to Haran to find a suitable match from among the families residing there. The Torah, when describing the meeting between Eliezer and Rebecca, specifically points out her physical appearance. The verse states, “Now the maiden was of very comely appearance…” (Genesis 24:16). However, when the verses later recount the first meeting between Rebecca and Isaac, the Torah writes that she saw Isaac from a distance and” she took the veil and covered herself.” (Genesis 24:65). The verses continue, “Isaac brought her to the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rebecca, and she became his wife, and he loved her.” This is a fascinating series of events, and though the process of matchmaking has greatly evolved since Biblical times, perhaps this story has much to teach us in our day and age about the difference between real love and fleeting infatuation.
Chana Levitan, a known educator, author, speaker and therapist cites an interesting and on-point analogy of this idea in her Aish.com article, “The Infatuation Trap.” She explains that the relationship between love and infatuation as follows: “It is like making a campfire. You need a couple of logs, some twigs, paper, and matches. Try kindling the logs directly – you’ll be waiting all night. But if you just light the twigs and paper without the logs, the fire will burn bright, but only for a short time. You need both the twigs and the logs. Infatuation is the twigs that play an important role in igniting the logs of love. Make sure infatuation isn’t the foundation of your relationship. When you get carried away with the chemistry and forget about the substance of the relationship (the logs), chances are you’ll end up brokenhearted. It’s only a short matter of time before the fire will burn out.” (www.aish.com) It is for this reason that the Torah tells us that Isaac loved Rebecca without mentioning her physical appearance at all. In fact the biblical commentator Nachmanides, explains that the love that Isaac had for Rebecca, “was because of her righteousness and good deeds.”(Bereisheit 24:67) Isaac loved Rebecca because of her moral character — a strong and solid base for true love –rather than for the fleeting infatuation that would be associated with a love based on her physical appearance.
What were the good deeds that stood out in Rebecca’s character, which caused Isaac to love her? The Torah relates to us that when Eliezer went to Haran, he offered a prayer to be able to find the right person to marry Isaac. The verse states, “And it will be, [that] the maiden to whom I will say, ‘Lower your pitcher and I will drink,’ and she will say, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels,’ her have You designated for Your servant, for Isaac, and through her may I know that You have performed loving kindness with my master.” (Genesis 24:14). The Torah relates that immediately upon completing his prayer, Rebecca arrived and offered water to him and his ten camels. Why is this act, one of profound kindness and generosity, the litmus test to determine the proper wife for Isaac?
The answer lies in the very word “אהבה”—the Hebrew word for “love.” According to Jewish tradition, the letters and words of the Hebrew language lend tremendous insight into the core of the concept itself. In the case of אהבה, the root of the word is “הַב”, literally translated “to give.” Judaism believes that true love is only found when one goes into a relationship to give to their partner, rather than to take. As Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan notes, “Love and lust should not be confused. While love wants to give, lust only wants to take. Love is a reciprocal sentiment, where one identifies with the wants and the needs of the beloved.” (Made in Heaven, p. 8) Accordingly, throughout Jewish tradition beginning with Abraham, the desire to give rather than take is the litmus test for love. This is how Eliezer was confident that Rebecca, with her character traits of giving and generosity even to a total stranger, would be the perfect match for Isaac.
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, the Dean of Yeshivat Har Etzion quotes on this topic Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a French writer and poet of the early 20th Century. “Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction” Rav Lichtenstein continues and writes “ the love between man and woman arises from more than each admiring the beauty and character of the other. It arises mainly from their joint observation, understanding and appreciation of a third, additional reality which is loftier and mightier and more wondrous than themselves.” (Sichot on Parhsat Chaya Sarah)
And therein lies the secret: when we can begin to focus on the internal and not the external, when we understand that love is about the giving and not the taking, and when we channel that powerful feeling toward the pursuit of an even loftier joint goal then we create a home for true and lasting love into our lives.