Barnaby Huxtable (aka Jeff) (jeffpeck) wrote in hillel,
Barnaby Huxtable (aka Jeff)

A D'var Torah for this week

I wrote the following D'var Torah for my school's weekly D'var Torah email. I figure I might as well share it here too:


What is Love? - Chayei Sarah 5766 - Chaim Reuven Peck

This week's Torah Portion contains the second mention of love in the Torah (the first being the love between Avraham and his son Yitzchak [1]).

First, a quick overview of what is happening here:  The Torah Portion begins with Avraham securing a burial plot for his wife, Sarah.  After this, Avraham goes on to finding a wife for his son Yitzchak.  He sends his servant, Eliezer to his (Avraham's) land.  Eliezer takes an oath and goes.  When he arrives, he stands by a well and prays for a sign that the next woman to walk by will be the one designated for Yitzchak.  Before he finishes praying, Rivkah walks to the well.  Eliezer asks her for a sip of water and she gives water not only to him, but to his camels - the very sign that Eliezer prayed for, and a demonstration of Rivkah's innate kindness.  After a long dialogue, Rivkah goes back with Eliezer to Yizchak.  And now we are up to speed...

The verse with the first mention of love between a man and woman, so far in the Torah, is "And Yitzchak brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother; he married Rivkah, she became his wife, and he loved her; and Yitzchak was consoled after his mother." [2]  This is the first time the Torah is using this word "love" - "Ahavah" in regard to a man and woman, as well as the second time, total in the Torah.  There must be something important that we can learn from this about the nature of love.  Our question is:  What does the Torah mean when it says "Ahavah" - "love"?

While this question may be enough, we will add a second question to help us understand the concept of "love" even further.  In order to ask our second question, we need to look at a comment made by the Torah commentator, Rabbi Ya'akov Ba'al HaTurim.  The Ba'al HaTurim notes that the specific form of the word "love" used in the verse in this week's Torah Portion is only used in one other place in the entire Tanach [ibid.].  It says elsewhere "And Amnon loved her" [3] referring to Amnon's feelings for his sister Tamar, before he tricked and then raped her - a stark contrast to the love between Yitzchak and Rivkah.  After the rape incident is described, it says that Amnon hated his sister more than he had originally loved her [4].  The Ba'al HaTurim writes: "There, the love was dependent on an external factor; therefore it ceased.  Here, however, [Yitzchak's] love for [Rivkah] was not dependant on an external factor; therefore it never ceased."  In other words, the exact same form of the word "love" found in both places is to allude to this contrast between the two distinct and diametrically opposite forms of Ahavah - love.  So, if the Torah speaks of "Ahava" in two very different contexts, what makes them both "love" (as opposed to calling one "lust" or "infatuation" and the other "love")?

To start to understand this, we can look more closely at the order of events in the verse from this week's Torah Portion: "she became his wife, and he loved her" [2].  First she became his wife, and then he loved her.  This might seem to be out of order.  It may even seem foolish to marry somebody without having feelings of "love" for them.  I think that this idea is almost universally accepted in American society - "first comes love, then comes marriage" - right?  For Jews, however we don't believe this is necessarily the case.  Often Jewish couples will meet and decide after a few weeks of dating that they are compatible, and only start to develop a deep everlasting love for each-other during their marriage.  This does not have to be the case always, but as we will soon see what it means to truly love, it is likely that true love comes after marriage more often than it may seem.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan writes [5]:
Of course, just because love is powerful, it does not mean that it is supposed to be blind.  Marriage is the most important decision that a person will make in his or her life, and it is a decision that must be made with open eyes.  One must know whom one is marrying, and be certain that there are no faults that will doom the marriage to failure.  Advice must be sought and heeded.  But then, once the open-eyed commitment for marriage has been made, love gives it a powerful foundation.  A couple who are in love when they marry are building their marriage on the same foundation on which the entire Jewish nation was built.

But sometimes a marriage feels "right" even when there is no strong love.  A couple may still feel that they should get married.  In such a case, love can also grow after marriage.  Even when the couple is in love before marriage, the love that develops after marriage is much deeper.  It becomes a love where two people are totally sensitive to each other, and where neither can imagine life without the other.  It is a love that comes from building a family - and a life - together.

So, in the case of Yitzchak and Rivkah, the Torah first mentions that they were married and then love entered the picture, in support of this idea that love is something that is to be developed.  We know from the long description of Eliezer going to find Rivkah after taking an oath from Avraham to find a specific woman and his praying for a sign, as well as the long dialogue with Rivkah's brother that they did not go into this marriage blindly.  Rather, a great deal of reason went into it.  They were able to first get married and understand that together they would be able to develop love, which is precisely what happened.

True love takes time to develop.  This idea is supported even further by the verse "When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out to the army, nor shall he be given any responsibility; he shall remain free for his house for one year, and he shall gladden the woman he married." [6]   It is so important to spend this first year of marriage developing this love that even when Israel maintained armies to defend it's borders, the process of developing this love came first [5].  Now, we can look more deeply at what this "love" that Yitzchak and Rivkah developed after their marriage and how it relates to our own relationships.

Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ulman writes the following [7]:
The Hebrew word for love is Ahava, the root of which is Hav, which means to give. Only through mutual giving can a couple achieve true love. Furthermore, the gematria (numerical equivalent) of Ahava is 13, and so is that of Echad (one). From here we see that a couple achieves unity only through love and giving; if each only takes from the other, they will never unite but always remain separate. In fact, the commandment "Love your fellow as you love yourself" also applies to husband-wife relationships. The Talmudic rabbis taught: "One must love his wife like himself, and honor and respect her more than himself." Once Rabbi Aryeh Levin’s wife felt pain in her foot. They went to the doctor together whereupon the doctor asked, "What can I do for you?" Rabbi Levin answered in all sincerity, "Doctor my wife’s leg is hurting us.

So, love is an extreme expression of giving.  We see this expressed in the love of a parent to a child.  When a parent loves a child, there is nothing expected in return.  The love is an act of giving entirely for it's own sake.  We find stories of people who lift cars to save their children trapped underneath.  True Ahavah is powerful.  It says in Song of Songs "Love is a as strong as death... many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it." [8]

If this is the case - that true Ahava is this powerful expression of giving - then what are we to make of the extreme opposite case of Amnon raping his sister Tamar, not only using the same word "Ahavah", but using the exact same form of the word (V'Ye'ehaveha)?  How can this word that expresses an extreme form of giving and unity and so many good things, also be used to express the feeling of Amnon that led him to rape his sister Tamar?

Our answer can be found in the Ba'al HaTurim's comment.  He writes regarding the incident of Amnon and Tamar that "there the love was dependent on an external factor".  The Ba'al HaTurim is referring to a mishnah in Pirke Avos that says "Any love that is dependent on an external factor, if that factor is nullified, the love is nullified." [9]  Amnon's love was in fact a genuine form of "love" and it was very strong.  The single monumental difference that it had with the case of Yitzchak and Rivkah was that it was based on an external factor.

So, what was this factor?  On what did Amnon base his love of Tamar?

Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld writes [10]:
The object of Amnon's love was not Tamar; it was himself. He wanted to satisfy his own physical urges. And, as the commentator Rabbeinu Yonah points out, once that was taken care of, his attraction instantly evaporated - into hatred and disgust, revealing itself as the nothingness it has always been. Love based upon external factors, whether lust, money or prestige, is ultimately selfish rather than selfless.

Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian points out an even more common example of this type of selfish love [11].  If somebody says "I love fish", does that mean that he really loves fish?  If so, why does he catch the fish with a sharp painful hook, cut it up, cook it, and eat it.  Obvious he don't really love the fish, but rather loves himself.  He loves the way the fish makes me feel (i.e. he enjoys the taste of the fish), and therefore says that he loves the fish.  We are assured by our Sages that this type of love will not last.

The Torah is coming to teach us a huge idea from Yitzchak and Rivkah.  We find that there exists such a form of love that can exist between a man and woman that is based on nothing external - that is boundless and will last forever.  This is not necessarily something obvious.  We may have had limited access to experiencing this type of love in our family life, but here in college we may become lost in hearing stories of various relationships, or from our own dating experiences.  The concept of everlasting love can be very distant to us.  We may even become frustrated and think that love has only one dimension.  When this happens, we can look to our Torah Portion - to our foremother and forefather, Yitzchak and Rivkah - Isaac and Rebecca, and find that love can truly be everlasting.

We are still be left with a question about this true everlasting love, however.  Where does it come from?  How does it develop?  It's good to know that it exists, but it is still distant from us, unless we have some idea how we can achieve it.

Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld continues [11]:
My teacher Rabbi Yochanan Zweig asked a very simple question: How could a love not depend upon anything, as our mishna states? If so, why do these two people love each other? What caused or brought about their attachment in the first place? Is the ideal somehow that we love others for no reason? What kind of love is that?
Rabbi Zweig explained that to be sure, initially people form a bond because of some attraction. Love at first is always dependent upon something - whether common experiences, common interests, or even physical attraction. But true love transcends this. True love occurs - again in the Jewish sense albeit wholly at odds with the secular, sensational image - when the two parties have grown so close to one another, have shared so much together, that their love no longer needs external prodding or stimulation. In fact it may become strongest when the physical urges are less dominant in their feelings for one another - when their feelings for each other become entirely selfless. By sharing their lives and experiences with each other, by giving to each other and growing together, a couple merges into a single entity, caring more about the other - and about the whole - than the individual.

So, now we see how everlasting love is attainable.  From this, we can note something fascinating.  We see that dependent love is actually necessary in developing this true everlasting love.  Now we can explain why the Torah specifically uses the same form of the word "love" in describing these two distinctly different cases of love.  We can the define the complete "love package", containing this self-love that is necessary be overcome, in order that we achieve the everlasting love that we see in the case of Yitzchak and Rivkah.  The dependent love is an essential stepping stone in finding everlasting love.  May we all be successful in finding and personally understanding this everlasting love.

I wish you all a restful Shabbos to end off the Thanksgiving break.


1: Bereishis 22:2
2: Bereishis 24:67
3: Shmuel II 13:1
4: Shmuel II 13:14
5: Aryeh Kaplan - Made in Heaven, pp. 14-15
6: Devarim 24:5
7: Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - Ohr Somayach, Ask the Rabbi, Love,
8: Shir HaShirim 8:6,7
9: Avos 5:19
10: Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld -, Pirke Avos:
11: Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian - Lev Eliyahu, vol.1, pp. 254-5; Rabbi Pliskin's "Consulting the Wise"
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