LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
The relationship that Jacob shares with Rachel boasts a quantitatively different nature than those shared by his father and grandfather with their wives. In recognizing when the Torah expresses their affection, we can deduce certain qualities of their marriage.
The relationship that Jacob shares with Rachel boasts a quantitatively different nature than those shared by his father and grandfather with their wives. In recognizing when the Torah expresses their affection, we can deduce certain qualities of their marriage. Regarding Abraham and Isaac, the Torah reveals their feelings towards their wives only after a relationship has been established. Abraham recognizes Sarah's beauty when they escape to Egypt to avoid a famine (Genesis 12:11). Similarly, Isaac first meets Rebecca by way of formal introduction by Abraham's servant, Eliezer (ibid. 24:64-66). Only after Isaac marries her does the Torah proclaim "and he loved her" (ibid. 24:67).
In contrast, from the moment Jacob noticed Rachel at the well, the Torah describes his being overwhelmed and energized, giving him the power to lift large boulders in a single bound. By the time Jacob reaches Laban's house, Jacob espouses his love for Rachel by offering seven years of his life in service to marry her. All this happened fairly quickly. Within a span of one afternoon, Jacob found the girl of his dreams, realized she was the girl of his dreams, and committed to making her the girl of his life. While his father and grandfather had generally taken their time to realize their love for their spouse, Jacob discovered his in a moment.
The Midrash recognizes two paths in finding a spouse. There are those who seek (active) and there are those who are found (passive) by their spouse. Isaac was found by his wife: "And he saw the caravan approaching" (ibid. 24:63). Jacob pursued his wife: "And Jacob went forth" (ibid. 28:10). This active quest characterizes Jacob's perspective of a relationship, and his determination underscores his enthusiasm. Not to the detriment of his parents' relationship, Jacob sought a relationship of a different kind. This pursuit was not marked merely by his traveling to another city; rather he was on a search for his soul-mate. Isaac certainly ended up with his and saw Rebecca as his soul-mate. Yet Jacob personally discovered his, from his own investigation and personal judgment.
Which path does the Torah prefer? Of course the Torah does not choose sides, and both are worthwhile. Any enthusiasm can be channeled towards a positive endeavor or abused by misappropriation. On the one hand, if Jacob's relationship can be characterized as enthusiastic, it is that which cost him, in total, fourteen years of his life. His marriage was worth his years, but it was his passion that motivated him to offer his service in the first place. On the other hand, only Jacob left a legacy of twelve children. Abraham and Isaac both left only one child in the chain of the Jewish people, while losing the other to a different historic path. Perhaps Jacob's enthusiasm in his relationship with his wife and his family is at the root of his meriting being the immediate biological father to the entire Jewish people.
Micah Gimpel, a native Atlantan and graduate of Yeshiva University, is studying at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel.
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