Love and Marriage: Which Comes First?
Rabbi Reuven Mann
There is no institution which is more significant for the preservation of civilization than the family. The well-being of society, and the ideal of human progress, is dependent on a firm and stable family unit. Judaism revolves around the sanctity of the mishpacha (family) as it is absolutely vital to the proper raising of children and perpetuation of the Torah way of life.
No relationship is more important in this regard than that of marriage. Happy marriages produce thriving families. Unhappy ones create misery for the parties involved and for those who are closest to them. Thus the subject of choosing a spouse should be a matter of great concern.
The contemporary approach does not seem to rely too heavily on the use of rationality. People believe that it’s all about falling in love. They date until they meet that “certain someone” who makes their heart flutter. They are convinced that the one they are madly in love with is the right person to marry. But the elevated divorce rate indicates that there is a problem. Love is extremely important, but is it enough?
Parshat Chayei Sarah is almost entirely devoted to the search for a suitable mate for Isaac, the second Patriarch. Abraham appointed his loyal servant Eliezer to journey to the land of Abraham’s birth, to find a woman who would be a suitable match for his son. He supplied him with 10 camels bearing impressive gifts, as no expense would be spared in this most crucial endeavor.
However, the modern reader may find it difficult to relate to the method of match-making used by Abraham. How can someone else pick a wife for you? Shouldn't the principals be directly and personally involved in the search for one's "intended?"
There is much that we can learn from the perspective of the patriarchs. Their main concern in marriage was not the pursuit of romance, which is the only thing that matters to most people in the contemporary world. Modern man fails to understand that true love is based on an appreciation of the virtue and character of an individual.
Modern man is consumed by the pursuit of self-gratification. In a sense he is incapable of true love. His idea of love is sensual and superficial and only lasts as long as it provides him with a "thrill." When the romantic feeling wears off, as it inevitably must, he moves on emotionally, because he has not developed an attachment to the genuine qualities of the other person.
Contrast this to the approach of the Patriarchs. Eliezer did not "arrange" the marriage of Isaac to Rebecca. He recognized the high level that Isaac was on, and what type of spiritual qualities a man like him would be attracted to. Moreover, Isaac was not searching for romance, but for a suitable helpmate who shared his values and would be a full partner in achieving the exalted goals of his life.The choice of Rebecca was made with great wisdom and deep insight into her ethical and moral makeup. She was the appropriate match for Isaac.
When Isaac learned from Eliezer about her wonderful deeds, he realized that she was a true disciple of his mother Sarah. He was attracted to her not only on the ordinary emotional plane but on the deeper spiritual aspect as well. The verse says "she became a wife to him and he loved her" (Genesis 24:67). One may ask: "Shouldn't love precede marriage?”
The answer is that romantic love comes before marriage, but often doesn't survive it. True love comes later. Only by her being a wife to him and his being a husband to her, with the two of them working together as a team, facing the challenges of life and growing together, serving Hashem and fulfilling their unique spiritual mission, was true love attained.
May we merit to achieve it.