A look at the first love story in the bible, between Yitzchak and Rivka.
Parashat Chayei Sarah includes the first love story of the Bible. I’d like to explore the experience of love between Yitzchak and Rivka and the effect it has on Yitzchak.
Chayei Sarah opens with a funeral. This is the first event we have (other than the lineage of Avraham which we hear about at the end of VaYera) after the Akeda. We don’t hear what happened between Avraham and Sarah or between Yitzchak and any of them after the trauma he went through. There are midrashim that are telling us Yitzchak never went back with Avraham or that Avraham and Sarah never met after the Akeda. We don’t know what happened, but we do know that after the passing of Sarah something is missing and Avraham sends Eliezer to look for a wife.
It is traditional for Biblical couples to meet by a well, a well brings life into the world and love in our culture is many times compared to life. But that is not the case throughout all the marriages or relationships in the Torah. While some are known to be in-love and others are recognized as such between the verses, some couples in the Torah have very complicated relationships. In our Parasha, nevertheless, it clear that a love story begins. Rivka is exactly what Avraham looked for and the minute she sees Yitzchak she falls off her camel. Yitzchak is the first man in the Torah where we are explicitly told that he loves her, “And Yitzchak brought Rivka to his mother’s tent. He took Rivka, she became his wife, and then he loved her, and then he was comforted over the loss of his mother.” (24:67).
I don’t wish to focus on this love but rather to the place where this love brings Yitzchak. In the Zohar (Zohara Chayai Sarah 129 a) we read the love for Rivka comforted Yitzchak and that that was a time for joy and happiness. Yitzchak was not only comforted, but his comfort brought, through his merit, a better time for the world. The love he had for Rivka released him, it allowed him to open up after the death of his mother, after the trial of the Akeda, after being separated from his brother, suddenly Yitzchak, whose attribute is Din, Gvurah, strict justice, brings joy. What is the meaning of this?
I think in order to understand this we must turn to what takes place in the second funeral of our Parasha: “And Yitzchak and Yishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre” (25:9). What happened? How did Yitzchak and Yishamel agree to meet and bury their father together? What happened? The Rebbe of Sochaczew explains that even though Yishamel did not have a positive influence over Yitzchak, in his negative example he showed Yitzchak the right path. Yishamel’s behavior was a ‘vessel’ in this way for Yitzchak’s education and thus “Even if he did not mean it, it is a good merit upon him” (Shem Shmuel, BaMidmbar תרעג). By seeing that side in him, Yitzchak and Yishamel join together and maybe that is what triggers Yishmael to repent and to amend his ways as the Midrashim teach us.
Yitzchak love for Rivka allows him to reopen his heart. Sometimes we are not able to mend the relationships within our family. Sometimes we are not in touch with parents, siblings and grandparents. Fights in with family can get out of hand very fast. The love Yitzchak experiences with Rivka plants something different within him and he sees Yishmael differently. Unlike his absence from Sarah’s funeral he is not only present in Avraham’s funeral, but he actually buries him -together- with Yishmael. This is not the romantic love of our age, it is far better, this is the love of Tikkun - of repairing oneself. The marriage of Yitzchak and Rivka releases something. Sometimes in order to rediscover the love inside our family we must build our own family. Many times, it is impossible for us to reconcile disputes and to allow our anger to fade away, it is by opening our heart to someone new that we are able to go back to those we knew from before. These are not easy tasks, finding a partner and reconciles our quarrels with our family are probably the two greatest challenges we all face in our day-to-day life but it is not a coincidence that this takes place in our Parasha, it is Yitzchak, the Din, the Attribute of Strict Justice that is bringing repentance, Tshuva. But It is being done with Hamtakat HaDin, with the transformation of the divine judgment into love and compassion. This, too, what we learn from Yitzchak.