This is it. The classic love story. Avraham sends his right-hand man Eliezer to find a wife for his son, Yitzchak (Isaac), and he goes to the watering hole of the town where Avraham's relatives live, and the first person he meets is Rivka (Rebbeca). The Torah tells us she was exceedingly beautiful, and almost immediately Eliezer knew this was the man for Yitzchak, and after meeting the family, of course, he whisks her away to her waiting husband-to-be. As she arrives, Yitzchak is praying in the field outside his house, and Rivka is so taken aback at the impressive sight of him she falls off her horse! I can't believe no one's made this into a hollywood blockbuster! And everything worked out really well for Yitzchak and Rivka. Great family, didn't get divorced, parents of an entire nation.... We can see here that love conquers all. When two people have such a romantic relationship, madly and passionately in love with one another, nothing can go wrong. Love conquers all!
Not quite. In fact
, I can prove to you in about 30 seconds that love doesn't conquer all. Let me ask you: If I did a survey, and went up to every couple in the world just seconds before they were about to get married, and asked them if they loved each other, what percentage of them do you think would answer 'Yes. Definitely'? 99%? 100%?? Of course they are in love! Otherwise they wouldn't be getting married!
But what's the divorce rate? 50% within 5 years. So.... what happened to 'love conquers all'?!
It's simply not true. Love does not conquer all. Our media - movies, tv, magazines, music - they all pump into us over and over again this idea that love conquers all and that an incredibly passionate relationship is a surefire sign of a love that will last forever, and you can't blame them because it is such a beautiful idea and hey, it sells.... but it's not true! And how much pain does it cause so many millions of people who are wandering around in relationships that end up in breakups and divorces because they are being guided by lies that 'sound good' and 'sell' but in actuality there is no truth to them whatsoever. Love does not conquer all.
But, interestingly, our Sages in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers), tell us there is a type of love that can overcome all obstacles and will last indefinitely. Our Sages term this love ahavah she'einah teluyah bedavar (love that does not hinge upon the material or the sensual):
All love that is based on a transient cause [material or sensual] vanishes with the passing of that cause. Love that is not based on a transient cause [but hinges on some spiritual quality] will never cease. (Pirkei Avot 5:19)
When love is based on sensual attraction, it reflects only self gratification.
After that gratification is achieved, or as it slowly wears off as people get older and their physical and sensual attractions dissapear, such love vanishes. A girl who loves a boy because he is tall, handsome, athletically built, popular and enthralling - may one day wake up in shock. At the moment of truth, she will realize she is married to nothing more than an empty hulk and smooth tongue. Then the 'love' that existed dissapears. Rav Eliyahu Lopian used to say that the problem with the love today is that it is primarily selfish. It is about me. For example: People say they "love" fish.
What do they do with the fish they love? First, they kill it. Then they cut it up, bake it, broil it, fry it, chew it, and swallow it. Do they really love fish? Not at all! They love themselves and seek self-gratification. They don't love fish, they love the feeling that fish give them. But it's all about them. That's selfish love. This type of love will inevitably end sooner or later.
The situation is completely different when love is based on a partner's fine character traits and nobility of spirit. When you love someone because they are a good person, and are kind and gentle and generous and spiritual and positive and sensitive to others, the love and appreciation one feels is not linked to self-gratification, but to the inherent goodness of one's partner. This person's goodness is eternal and permanent, and therefore so is the love you have for them.
This kind of love only grows stronger with time as both members of this relationship grow and work to become better people and menschen.
The success of Yitzchak and Rivka's marriage wasn't because it was a passionate love affair. And the truth is my words were purposely misleading.... their love wasn't based in the least on Rivka's beauty and Yitzchak's impressive appearance. Quite the opposite. It would take too long to analyse the words in the Torah exactly (read the story yourself it starts in Genesis chapter 24!), but take a look at the test that Eliezer put together to see if Rivka was the right girl. Our commentators point out that it was full of every little test possible to see what spiritual and noble qualities she had. If she was generous, if she was a leader, if she was polite, if she was modest. When she came to see Yitzchak, the Torah says "And Yitzchak brought her into the tent of Sarah, his mother. He took Rivkah, and she became his wife, and he loved her." Targum Onkelos (who we have mentioned before – he was Caeser's nephew who converted to Judaism and translated the Torah into greek) translates this as "And Yitzchak brought her into the tent, and behold, he saw her deeds were as righteous as those of Sarah, his mother, and he loved her."
Yitchak and Rivka chose each other and loved each other not because of a physical attraction or romance. It was much deeper.
They saw goodness and righteousness in each other, and so loved their partner not for the feeling that they gave them, but just for who they were.
It wasn't a selfish love. It was a love which is not 'teluyah b'davar', not dependant on anything. It is a intrinsic love of someone for being great and good. That kind of love conquers all.
This is, by the way, one of the main ideas behind a shomer negiyah relationship. As soon as a relationship becomes physical there will automatically be other types of love created. A sexual relationship is the most powerful connection two people can create. This is very important and good, but only after you're 100% positive that there is here the type of love that is not based on externals, because that is the one you will ultimately be left with and that your relationship will ultimately depend on. I'm not recommending anyone even try this unless you're at a pretty advanced level, but you can appreciate it's wisdom.
Yitzchak and Rivka loved each other because they saw greatness in one another. They admired one another for their righteousness, kindness, good character traits and piety. It wasn't a selfish love at all. It was an intrinsic love of a person for being good. If we choose our partners based on the same checklist that our forefathers and foremothers used, rather than the checklist the media all around us bombards us with day and night,
we will save ourselves so much pain, and be able to build a strong, real, lasting, loving relationship. Because love does conquer all….as long as it's the right type.