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Topic: Giving & Loving


Torah (Bible) Text (Genesis 24:67)

Isaac brought [Rebecca] into his mother Sarah's tent; he married her, she became his wife, and he loved her. Isaac was thus consoled for the loss of his mother.

In this event of the marriage of the second pair of Patriarchs and Matriarchs, events appear to be out of order. Why did Isaac first bring Rebecca into his mother's tent before marrying her? How was he able to marry her without loving her first? What should a marriage be? Ramban sheds light on these questions by explaining the relationships between Isaac and his mother, Sarah, and his wife, Rebecca.

Nachmanides [Torah Commentator, 1194-1270, Spain]

This verse relates Isaac's great honor for his mother. From the time Sarah died, her tent was not rebuilt. "No other woman should enter Sarah's tent," they said. With Rebecca's arrival, however, Isaac brought her into Sarah's tent and married her there.

Isaac was thus consoled for the loss of his mother - this statement indicates that until Isaac's marriage to Rebecca, he remained deeply saddened over his mother's death and refused to accept condolences. After his marriage to Rebecca, however, Isaac's love for her made it possible for him to be consoled.

The Onkelos Torah commentary (Aramaic-language interpretation of the Torah, 1st century Israel) explains that Isaac was consoled over his mother's death because he saw in Rebecca his mother's refined moral character.

What is the nature of the bond between parent and child, husband and wife? Describing the first human marriage, the Torah offers its unique perspective on the powerful bond established by matrimony. Sforno's commentary follows.

Torah Text (Genesis 2:24)

Therefore, a man leaves his father and mother and is united with his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (Torah Commentator, 1470-1550, Italy)

It is proper for a man to strive to marry a suitable wife for him so that he can unite with her. Marriage is so important that it should be necessary for man to leave his parental home. The reason for this is that there can be no perfect bond between human beings other than in marriage, where both partners will aim to achieve the human perfection that G-d intended in man's creation. Through marriage, they will be able to function as though they are one being.


Synopsis of Nachmanides

Only through his marriage to Rebecca did Isaac find consolation over his mother's death. Onkelos identifies the similarity of Sarah and Rebecca's noble characters as the source of Isaac's consolation.

Synopsis of Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno

Marriage is the means by which a person can reach his greatest level of perfection.


In discussing the Torah view on marriage, Rabbi Yacov Weinberg once used a business analogy. "A marriage is not a partnership," he said. "A marriage is a merger." In a partnership, each partner demands an accounting to settle a proper distribution of profits. Although each partner engages in a joint effort for the benefit of the partnership, each still has his personal interests in mind. A merger, however, fuses the interests of both business entities. Two separate and distinct companies integrate into a new, unified whole that functions for one common goal. No longer is each entity centered on promoting its own interests.

During the Holocaust, a young couple was separated. Their young child ended up escaping with the father, while the mother went on her own way. Upon their miraculous reunion after the war, the mother found herself unable to relate to the adolescent that stood before her. Given no chance to raise him, the naturally intense attachment of mother to child had been lost.

What is the basis of spiritual and emotional bonds between people, of which marriage and family are the most intense expressions? A Talmudic statement tersely identifies the source.

Talmud (Tractate Derech Eretz Zuta)

If you want bond yourself to loving your friend, give to him for his benefit.

The Hebrew word for "love" (ahav) is rooted in the word "to give" (hav). Whereas, "Love at first sight" is a popular notion that assumes love is possible between two people before they have ever given to each other, this Talmudic statement teaches that genuine love comes only after giving. What is the basis of this Torah view of love?

In a series of essays on the topic of benevolence, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler [1892-1954, England-Israel] identifies the root of true love.

A person loves the fruits of his efforts, as he feels that he has imparted his essence to it. Whether it is a son he has brought up, an animal he has raised, a plant he has nurtured, or even a house he has built, he feels bound with love to the results of his labor. In it, he sees himself.

(Michtav Me'Eliyahu/ Letters of Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler)

By giving we impart a facet of our being to others. The inherent self-love that G-d implanted in all of us can extend to another, since a part of our selves has become a part of theirs. Such a basis of love can be promoted not only for those people for whom we have natural inclinations to give (e.g. family), but also to strangers or even enemies. The greater the giving, the more intense the love that results.

In the parent-child relationship, we love our children because we give to them. The natural helplessness of a young child instinctively evokes an outpouring of giving from the parent. As the child comes to recognize the parent's selfless devotion to him, he responds with a similar, albeit less intense form of love. Unable to give to the parent, the child can not feel love for parents as deeply. So too the mother separated from her child from birth was never given the opportunity to help a helpless child. Her love for her son could never flourish in the same way that it did for the father.

The helplessness of the newborn infant naturally elicits feelings of giving. In married life, on the other hand, one must work hard to develop the necessary feelings of selflessness. During the engagement period of young couples, Rabbi Dessler would offer the following advice: "Be careful, my precious couple, that your marital ambition should be to bring satisfaction to each other as you feel so much at this time of your lives. Know that at the moment you begin to make demands upon one another, the fulfillment of your marriage has left you," With these words Rabbi Dessler captured the essential source of true love in a marriage. To become a merger instead of a partnership, husband and wife must draw upon a deep mutual desire to complete the being of their spouse.

Isaac's attachment to his mother is closely linked to his marriage to Rebecca. The Torah thus highlights the transition of leaving the bond of parents and entering the bond of matrimony. So long as he remained a bachelor, Isaac's primary experience was of receiving the selfless giving of his parents. He could not easily forget the decades of Sarah's prayers for a child and the years of her devotion to the son of her old age. His mourning was inconsolable until he had the opportunity for an even greater bond. In his marriage to Rebecca, Isaac could reach greater levels of love because he could at last become a benefactor as well as just a recipient. In matrimony, Isaac could achieve human perfection by CREATING rather than just receiving true love.