Rabbi Emanuel Cohn
Former Avrech in Montreal (2001-2003)
Founder of “Torah MiCinema” – Teaching Film and Judaism
The distinction of the love that Yitzchak had for Rebekah and the love that he had for his mother Sarah is not clear from the pesukim. Yet is seems clear to us that these should be two different types of love and they should not be confused. Looking at the relationship between Jacob and Rachel helps us to understand this distinction.
Fleeing his brother Esau, Jacob goes on his journey to the east. He arrives at a well, meeting some local shepherds. “While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. When Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his MOTHER’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his MOTHER’s brother, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well and watered the flock of Laban his MOTHER’s brother. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted his voice and wept.” (Gen. 29, 9-11)
What a strange encounter. When Jacob meets Rachel, overwhelmed by his emotions, his mother is mentioned three times in the same verse! Although this may not surprise a Jewish male reader who is totally aware of the dominant role the “Jewish Mother” has in Jewish boys’ lives…- this needs an explanation.
Before we analyze that, let us go one generation back to the encounter of Jacob’s father with his (future) wife: “Then Isaac brought her [Rebekah] into his MOTHER Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his MOTHER’s death.” (Gen. 24, 67) Already here we see a similar picture. When Isaac marries Rebekah, the image of his mother Sarah is fully present. His wife is basically replacing his mother (in her tent!), and even though it says that Isaac loved Rebekah, right thereafter it is stressed again that even this love was within the context of the loss of his mother. Isaac was never really able to detach himself from his mother. Will his son Jacob meet the same fate?
Initially it seems so, as we have seen above. However, only a few verses later it says: “Jacob loved Rachel, so he said [to Laban], ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’…So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.” (Gen. 29, 18-20) Here it says for the first time that Jacob “loved” Rachel, while his mother is not mentioned even once. What can we learn from here?
In the beginning of humanity, God gives his “formula” for a successful relationship between a man and a woman: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen. 2, 24) If so, a condition for a man’s joining his wife is his leaving his mother – physically and mentally. Isaac never really took that step, he even remained in his mother’s tent (let us not forget that Isaac was an only child who was miraculously born to Sarah in the 90th year of her life). Jacob though was able to free himself, not only geographically but also psychologically from his home (although at the beginning of his encounter with Rachel he was still overcome by nostalgic maternal feelings).
However there is another striking difference between Jacob and his father. Isaac never really had to fight for his wife. He actually didn’t have to do anything! Rebekah was brought by his father’s servant Eliezer right into Sarah’s tent. On the other hand Jacob did not only leave his tent, he also gave something from himself in order to earn his wife. It says that Jacob “loved” Rachel only when he made his commitment to sacrifice for her seven years of his life. In that moment Jacob loved Rachel on her own right, for the first time, and forever.
I asked myself many times why according to the account in Genesis woman was created of a rib of man. The underlying message seems clear: In order to get a woman, his woman, man has to sacrifice something. He has to give something from within himself in order to reach the level of a true spouse. But why a rib? Wouldn’t a heart be more fitting (-it would certainly be more romantic)? As we know a rib is one of the twelve pairs of curved arches of bone extending from the spine. The spine is the source of man’s stability, man’s steadiness. In order to deserve his wife, man must “cut down” on his stability. He must leave the secure and stable grounds of his mother’s environment in order to create something new.
In this week’s Parsha, our forefather Jacob exemplifies this metamorphosis. He demonstrates the Jewish answer to the Oedipus complex. And his relationship with Rachel will be remembered as one of the true love stories of the Torah.