‘Jacob kissed Rachel and he lifted up his voice and wept’ (Genesis 29:11)
Bible presents two models for finding one’s life partner: the Isaac-Rebekah
arranged marriage model, and the romantic Jacob-Rachel model. In both instances,
there must be “love” (ahava): The Bible informs us that “Isaac brought [Rebekah]
into the tent of Sarah his mother, he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and
he loved her…” (Genesis 24:67); and in our portion, when Laban asks Jacob what
remuneration he wants for his work, the Torah records that “Jacob loved Rachel,
and so he said, ‘I shall work for you for seven years in exchange for marrying
Rachel, your younger daughter’” (Gen. 29:18).
The major difference
between these models is that with Isaac and Rebekah, the love came after the
marriage, whereas with Jacob and Rachel, love preceded the marriage. In both
cases, however, the Bible emphasizes that love is fundamental to
The Talmud likewise speaks of the “love” component, “It is
forbidden for a man to betroth a woman unless he sees [comes to know] her, lest
he find in her something unseemly and she becomes distasteful to him; for the
Torah teaches, ‘You must love your friend like yourself.’” (B.T. Kiddushin 41a);
Maimonides rules that the woman also has the right to choose her
mate. (Laws of Marriage 19:3).
It is fascinating that Rabbi Yehuda
(Judah bar Ezekiel, 220–299 CE) records in the name of Rav that the law of
“loving your friend like yourself” applies to husband and wife – perhaps he
would maintain that this is the fullest compliance of the command.
is reminiscent of the magnificent verse regarding the very first married couple,
Adam and Eve: “...This time she is bone of my bones and flesh of my
flesh…. Therefore, shall a man leave his father and mother, join together with
his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:23, 24) The Ramban
(Nahmanides) explains “one flesh” as referring to the act of sexual intercourse
which unites both individuals; Rashi interprets it as referring to “the child
formed by the two parents.” From this perspective, “love” includes the desire to
join physically with one’s mate as well as to have children with
Among the seven marital blessings recited under the nuptial
canopy and in Grace after Meals for seven days following the wedding, we find
the best description I know of a married couple: re’im ahuvim, loving and
beloved friends, drawn from Rav’s verse.
If we can define love as sexual
attraction towards a partner with whom we would wish to continue the Jewish
narrative into future generations, “friendship” would suggest a relationship of
complete and unabashed honesty, mutual respect, and commonly held ideals and
If all of these criteria are present in a relationship, then I
would say the two people are “in love.”
However, one doesn’t just “fall”
in love; one must actively work to see that love continues and
Love requires nurturing – giving time every day to the
relationship, with a sharing of ideas, emotions and events which make two
individuals more and more of a united entity. Each must be encouraged to grow
and develop independently, but there must be sufficient sharing to allow both
people to grow together as one even as they develop themselves.
there must be a “will to love” and to create a stable and lasting family
environment (see Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving.) To return to our
We are told that when the fleeing Jacob arrived in the town
where his mother’s family dwelt, he found shepherds gathering together to lift
the boulder from atop the well so that they could give water to their sheep.
“But when Jacob saw Rachel, he single- handedly uncovered the stone from atop
the well and gave water to her sheep…” (Gen. 29:10).
The amazing power of
love – love at first sight.
Immediately thereafter, the Bible notes
“Jacob kissed Rachel and he lifted up his voice and wept.”
Why did he
weep? A student of mine once suggested that perhaps he wept because he kissed
her before they were married, transgressing the prohibition of touching a woman
who is not your wife. One of the commentaries suggests that since he kissed her
on the hand, it was an act of one relative to another without any erotic
But Rashi makes two other suggestions. The first is that Jacob
cried because he didn’t have any gifts to give her, since Eliphaz the son of
Esau had stolen all the gifts that Jacob had brought for his
From here, we see that one should give gifts to one’s fiancée
and also to one’s wife throughout one’s marriage.
Everyone wants to know
that they are appreciated.
The Rambam (Maimonides) rules that every
husband should give his wife a gift on every festival.
Even though the
author Erich Segal wrote, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” I would
contend that love means always being the first to say you’re sorry and giving
Rashi’s second interpretation is even more
Jacob saw that he wouldn’t be buried together with his beloved
Rachel, since he would be laid to eternal rest in the “Cave of the Couples”
(Ma’arat Hamachpela) and she would be buried in Bethlehem on the road to
I interpret this to mean that Jacob saw that in the order of
things, towards the end of their lives there would be an enforced separation;
usually one partner predeceases the other. And the bitter price that one pays
for loving is the necessity of an ultimate existential separation.
shalom The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone colleges and
graduate programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.