First Comes Marriage
Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18 )
He (Isaac) married Rebecca, she became his wife, and he loved her (Genesis, 24:67).
Too often we may read a verse in the Torah without pausing to analyze its full meaning. Is it not noteworthy that the Torah points out the sequence, she became his wife and then he loved her?
Western civilization is awash in love. The media bombards us with love via every possible modality: verbal, graphic and lyrical. Is it not strange that with all the emphasis on love, the divorce rate is an alarming 50 percent?
What passes for “love” in western civilization is either blind passion, or at best, self-love. Neither of these are a basis for an enduring relationship. Passion dissipates fairly soon and self-love may be rather easily frustrated.
The dynamics of a couple “falling in love” is something like this: The young man sees in this young woman a person who he feels can satisfy his emotional needs, and she sees in this young man someone who can satisfy her emotional needs. This would seem to be the ideal basis for a lasting relationship. But note: the young man is motivated primarily by his personal interest, and the young woman is motivated primarily by her personal interest. Although they profess love for each other, the reality is that they each love themselves, and the other is but someone whom they expect will please them. Should anything occur – the other partner is not pleasing them as they had expected, or if they meet someone who they think can better please them – the relationship is at risk of falling apart.
It may be difficult for us to understand how marriages were once made, with the parents of the couple arranging the engagement. In absence of passion and self-love, what was the basis for such marriages? It was a sense of responsibility to establish a family to whom the couple could transmit the legacy of Sinai. Certainly, the relationship was to provide satisfaction for both partners. However, if the level of satisfaction was not what each might have wished, the basis of the relationship was not weakened, and accommodation could more easily be reached. There was a common goal and purpose to the marriage rather than self-seeking interests. This enabled the development of a more mature love.
The Torah tells us, “He (Isaac) married Rebecca, she became his wife and he loved her.” The love developed after she became his wife. I can understand that. I saw it work.
My parents' marriage was essentially similar to that of Isaac and Rebecca. The marriage was arranged by their parents, and my father met my mother for the first time after the chuppah (marriage ceremony). Self-love did not enter into their relationship at its incipience nor at its end.
My father was extremely well-versed in medicine, and when he found out that he had cancer of the pancreas, he felt there was no purpose in undergoing chemotherapy. “Inasmuch as it is not going to prolong my life, there is no reason to suffer the side-effects,” he said. I had to agree.
The doctor, however, told my mother that while chemotherapy in this condition was not of much value, it could extend his life for two or three months. My mother was adamant that chemotherapy be used, even if it would add only one day to his life.
My father said to me, “I'm sorry that the doctor gave Mother misinformation. However, if I refuse chemotherapy, then when I die, mother may have regrets. She may feel guilty that she did not insist on chemotherapy: `If only he would have had chemotherapy, he might have lived.' I don't want Mother to feel guilty, so I will submit to the distress of chemotherapy. I've done many things for Mother, and this gives me a chance to do one last thing for her.”
This marriage was not one of self-love.
Even when the couple know each other before the wedding, a sincere effort at making one's own needs subordinate to those of the other partner can make the marriage one of true love.