Always be ready for love. It’s all around us. We just need to lift up our eyes and open our hearts. Yes, sometimes love disappoints or even hurts. Unrequited love, betrayed love or broken love may engrave deep scars. Longing for unconditional love, sometimes the best we get is disappointingly conditional. But we go on. Why? Because only a world shaped by love is a world that can be redeemed.
Love figures prominently in this week’s parasha, Chaye Sarah. Abraham loses the love of his life – his soul mate and fellow journeyer. Isaac grieves the loss of his beloved mother. But the quest for love endures. Abraham remarries. He also sends his servant, Eliezer, to find a bride for his son. Wouldn’t many a parent today like to engage a matchmaker to marry off their adult child?! Abraham provides no prerequisites only that the bride come from the land of his birth. It is Eliezer who opens his heart to the SOURCE OF LOVE and discovers Rebecca, a gracious, generous, and kind woman. In a moment he knows that this water drawer, this life giver, is the right person for Isaac. Can or will Isaac feel the same? We wait on the edge of our seats.
The Torah suggests that it is love at first sight, but the commentators do not all agree. Consider the newlyweds’ homecoming:” “And Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother; he married Rebecca, she became his wife and he loved her; and thus was Isaac consoled after his mother”(Genesis 24:67). Maimonides suggests: “[Isaac] found consolation only through his love for his wife,” and that his love was inspired by Rebecca’s righteousness and good deeds, the primary criteria upon which the Torah bases the love between husband and wife”. Rivka Olenick, reflecting on the commentary of Nachmonides, suggests that the love and respect Isaac had for his mother he has for Rebecca. Today, this verse has provided fodder for therapists with theories about why some people look for mates who are just like a parent. Nevertheless, Rebecca has the capacity to help Isaac heal both from the trauma with his father and the loss of his beloved mother.
Love continues to endure, but for so many it feels elusive or even impossible. The quest itself for so many people of every age may be fraught with disappointment and pain. If our community is to continue and flourish, we need to open our hearts to one another and do everything we can to nurture healthy, loving relationships – be they between parents and children, new and old friends, neighbors, soul mates, lovers young and old.
Life does not come with guarantees, but it does come with possibilities. It is our on-going spiritual work to remove the shells of bitterness that harden our hearts, preventing love from streaming in or flowing out. Love takes practice and is itself a practice. We can practice sending loving thoughts even to those we may not be inclined to love or to those for whom we feel indifference. One may never know how this practice of loving impacts the world, but it does.
Shabbat is a perfect time for renewing love by reconnecting with family, friends and community. Shabbat can be a respite from loneliness, offering both divine and human embrace. Life does not come with guarantees, but it does come with possibilities. It is our spiritual work to clear our hearts of bitterness and remove the hardened shells which form. In doing so, love becomes a practice. Giving love generously, we invite love.
Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi