Saturday, October 26, 2013

Parashat Chayei Sarah

When the Torah opens on Abraham and his family, he’s already kind of old. He and Sarah are already married, and we don’t get to know how they met or for how long they were married. We know he thought she was beautiful, which is nice, but his love for her is not fully apparent. However, with his son, Isaac, we are told he loves his wife.
The text says that Isaac has gone out to pray in the fields when he sees the camels approaching, the camels that carry Rebecca and Eliezer, his wife-to-be and his father’s servant who has found her for him. Midrash says, “Sometimes a person must go to his soulmate, and sometimes his soulmate comes to him.” The Midrash HaGadol goes on to claim that in this case, Isaac’s soulmate is coming to him, because she is travelling farther, but it sounds to me like they are going to each other. Does Isaac always go out to pray in the fields, rather than closer to home, or did something move him to go out to be closer to his heart’s other half? Either way, the use of the word soulmate shows the weight the ancient rabbis put on their union. This was not just a marriage that seemed good for the family, as many marriages were then, this one was written in the stars. Rebecca and Isaac are soulmates. Another Midrash says that when Rebecca “lifted her eyes, and saw Isaac” she was astounded by his majestic appearance. When she learns that this attractive fellow is her husband-to-be, she covers her face with a veil, presumably out of modesty, so there is no Midrash about how instantaneously he was struck her beauty. Let’s just assume when he did see her, he thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world, because we already know they’re soulmates. The Torah itself, without help from the ancient rabbis and their Midrash says explicitly, “And he loved her” (Gen. 24:67).
Love stories are beautiful. In the ancient world, often marriages were not based on love. They were decided by parents for children based on how the families would mesh or who had enough sheep. Even today, there are marriages fixed by parents without love between the couple that will marry. In the Bible, we see others who are clearly in love, but not in such a harmonious way as Isaac and Rebbeca’s marriage. Jacob loves Rachel dearly, but, as we will read in a couple weeks, has to marry her sister first to follow the social rules governing marriage (which did not factor in love). David falls in love with Batsheva, and they are married by the time of this week’s Haftarah portion, but when they meet she is married to someone else! Isaac and Rebecca are simply soulmates, in love from the first, married without extra baggage. We should all be so lucky.
So when someone finds a love like that, it should be celebrated and embraced fully. Earlier this week, our neighbor state of New Jersey joined the thirteen other states that allow for legal, equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal government would have to recognize these marriages, although it left the ultimate decision to allow or outlaw them up to each state. Thirteen is certainly an improvement from zero, and I am thankful to say every state I have lived in (NY, MA, and CT) has already passed this law, but there are still a lot of states to go. On a smaller, community level, the Reform movement and many pockets of progressive Judaism embraces all love, but many don’t. Some Jews speak out on behalf of equal rights for Queer folks, but believe that Jews should marry within the faith. Some Jews are ok with intermarriage, but feel uncomfortable with gay couples. Some don’t like either. It’s really wonderful to be a part of a community that is welcoming of all sorts of relationships and families, but there are still others out there who are not as welcoming. When we encounter them, may we all find the courage and compassion to remember everyone is entitled to their own opinions and gently express our own, to defend the rights of everyone without personally attacking anyone.
And most of all may we all find love.

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