16 KISLEV 5780 / 14 DECEMBER 2019
20th Century Israeli writer HaimNachmanBialik wrote: “Love surrounds us, and what is this – love?” We can discuss love in light last week’s portion Vayetzei and this week’s, Vayishlach. Last week we read about love between Jacob and his wives. This week we read about love between brothers, Jacob and Esau. ParashatVayishlachcompletes Jacob’s family history. Jacob returns to the Land of Canaan with his wives, eleven sons, and a daughter. He meets his brother Esau and parts from him without coming to harm. Unfortunately, we also read about the ugly turn when Jacob’s daughter Dinah is raped and her brothers massacre the Canaanites in revenge. Toward the close of the parashah, Jacob’s last child, Benjamin, is born. He is Rachel’s child, her second boy and she dies in childbirth. These events address the meaning of love. Many books, poems, movies, and songs have been written about love. Yet, we still are not clear about the definition of love. One meaning of love mentioned in Torah, is in the story of the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:2). God tested Abraham’s love for his son, or perhaps, his love for God. This is the first time in Torah that asher ahavta—beloved—is applied to a child. The first time Torah connects love between a man and a woman, occurs in this portion, in the story of Isaac and Rebecca: “She became his wife, and he loved her.” (Genesis 24:67) Torah suggests that couples are married and then fall in love. In our times, the order is falling in love before marriage. It seems to me that Torah teaches family and children come first. Love has a lower priority. This might appear strange to us today. Personal happiness in marriage is not a primary theme that Torah considers. One conclusion is that the ideal of Torah is not romantic love, the result of “chemistry” between people that suddenly emerges, and later matures. Love is a result of a long and sometimes difficult relationship, the blending of lives into a more complex family. So what is love? One possible answer, among a million answers to this question is: Love is the work of our soul. Torah teaches us about different loves: One kind of love is a parent for a child, as Abraham and Isaac; another kind of love grows between a man and a woman, like Isaac and Rebecca. What do these kinds of love share? They are the work of our soul the merger of our love for other people and our love of God.