Take a careful look at Bereishit 24:67: “And Yitzchak brought Rivka to his mother’s tent. He took Rivka, she became his wife, and then he loved her, and then he was comforted over the loss of his mother.”
In modern parlance, we might say, “He dated her, he married her, and then he grew to love her.”
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out the classic beauty of the ideal Jewish home. “The more she lived as and grew into her role of being his wife, such did his love for her grow.” This, Rabbi Hirsch argues, is the fundamental ingredient to a successful Jewish marriage. (And, yes, it goes both ways!)
A Jewish home is not built on lustful thoughts and feelings; it is built upon common values and similar approaches to how to live the best Jewish life, sharing an overall gestalt that serves for a harmonious existence. This intellectual and spiritual connection strengthens love, as the couple gives themselves the chance to get to know one another.
Rabbi Hirsch emphasizes the marked distinction between pre-marital “love” and the love which comes after the commitment to one another has taken complete effect. It is that commitment which becomes the fuel that drives a person to achieve and and ultimately to make the home a model of respect and caring behavior.
The wedding is not the pinnacle of love. It is the root which allows love to blossom. This is the difference between the Western, romantic notion of love, and love as described in the Torah.
The fact that Yitzchak, a 40-old man, is only comforted now, three years after his elderly mother’s death, indicates not only the tremendous connection and regard a man can have for his mother, but the tremendous role a wife can play in the life of her husband.
Quoting Onkelos, Ramban explains that the love Yitzchak felt for his wife began because of her righteousness and the straightness of her deeds — things he learned of as they were living together. Could this mean that he loved her because of the things she did? Absolutely.
The mishnah in Avot (5:16) describes two kinds of love: love which is dependent on something, and love which is dependent on nothing. If love is dependent on something, when that is lost, the love falls apart. The other kind of love never goes away.
The example the mishnah gives of love which can fall apart is Amnon and Tamar, two children of King David who had a disturbing, one-sided relationship (Samuel II:13). The other kind of love is modeled by David and Yonatan, son of King Shaul. As best friends who shared a vision of how each other could shine, and how they could both become leaders of Israel, all they ever wanted for each other was the very best.
A husband and wife will often begin their marriage out of love of the first kind: egotistical, what he/she can do for me, to make my life better. This is normal. In the initial stages, love based on deeds is the healthiest type of love. How does one love others just because they are there? Love, in a sense, needs to be earned. A person has to work hard to love and to be loved, to do for someone else, to be worthy of being the recipient of someone else’s true (non-lustful) affection.
Love which comes out of infatuation, or a tingly feeling a person gets, is meaningless. It doesn’t take long for that tingly feeling to go away once the excitement becomes routine, unless the love continues to derive strength from other factors. The former and the latter sentiments can best be summarized in this distinction: the difference between “I love you because you are beautiful” and “You are beautiful because I love you.”
Yitzchak is the first person in the Torah who expresses love. And he does so with thought, with consideration, and most importantly, with time.
As two lovers grow together, and create a home in which they think alike, feel alike, believe alike and have common goals, their love will no longer be dependent upon anything. Their love will last till eternity as they live out their lives as the best of friends.
This column by Rabbi Billet originally appeared in 2009.