Yaakov and Rachel: Love Jewish Style by Ms. Rochi Lerner

(2003/5764)

Parshat Vayetzei relates the love story of Yaakov and Rachel.  It is an odd tale, replete with unexpected twists and turns.  In Vayetzei 29:10-12, the Torah describes their encounter,  “And it was when Yaakov saw Rachel, daughter of Lavan, his mother’s brother, and the flock of Lavan, his mother’s brother, Yaakov came forward and rolled the stone off the mouth of the well and watered the sheep of Lavan, his mother’s brother.  Then Yaakov kissed Rachel, and he raised his voice and he wept.  Then Yaakov told Rachel that he was her father’s relative, and that he was Rivkah’s son, then she ran and told her father.”

Yaakov’s initial response to his first encounter with Rachel is very odd, and out of character with the behavior we would typically associate with the Avot.  Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch comments that what is noteworthy in the aforementioned Pesukim is the thrice-repeated phrase of “his mother’s brother.”  Yaakov was moved in all of his actions by the thought of his mother, who was brought vividly to life for him in the person of her brother Lavan, her nearest relative.  Without this frequent allusion to Lavan being Rivka’s brother, we might mistake this entire encounter as that of the stereotypic “love at first sight” behavior of a man for a lovely shepherdess.   Rav Hirsch further comments that although Yaakov noted her beauty, she was first and foremost, a relative of his.  This is reinforced by the fact that Yaakov wept.  When a man meets a beautiful woman, his instinctual response is delight, not tears.  Yaakov had been wandering a long while from home without seeing a familiar face.  And then he sees Rachel, daughter of his mother’s brother, and the image of his mother that she evokes moves him to tears.   These tears characterize the ensuing kiss as innocent.  Indeed, Rachel was quite disarmed and astonished by his unusual response to her, and so he explains himself in the following Pasuk (12), informing her of their familial relationship. 

In Vayetzei 29:18-20, the Torah relates, “And Yaakov loved Rachel, and he said: I will serve you for seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.  And Lavan said: It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man- abide with me.  And Yaakov served seven years for Rachel, and they were in his eyes but a few days, in his love for her.”   At first blush, this is an astonishing sequence of events.   In the first instance, how is it that Yaakov is prepared to wait seven years before marrying his beloved Rachel?    Secondly and more difficult to comprehend is the Mikrah’s characterization of the seven years as but a few days for Yaakov because of his great love for Rachel.

Young men in love are not known for their patience or capacity to delay.  One day’s delay seems an eternity; seven years seem impossible to endure.  How was Yaakov able to spend seven years separated from Rachel, and yet experience that separation as one of only a few days?  The Dubno Maggid explains that Yaakov’s love for Rachel was a “higher love.”   In the study of psychology, we learn that people are motivated to act either in accordance with their own best interests in the long-term or so as to obtain maximum pleasure and satisfaction in the short-term.  Freud characterized the latter as the pleasure principle; we act to have our needs met quickly.  This term is called Chefetz, and it operates on blind instinct.  When we act in order to benefit ourselves in the long-term, we utilize the reality principle, and we rely not on our instinct, but on reason.  This is called Cheshek.  In the usual course of events, instinctual impulse of necessity conflicts with rational and mature thought.

In the circumstances of love and marriage, a person driven solely by Chefetz will want marriage immediately, and will be impatient at the thought of delay.  But the lover guided by Cheshek will allow reason to dictate his emotional responses.  It is stated in Kohelet (2:14): “Hechacham Einav Birosho,” “The wise man has eyes in his head.”  The wise man can anticipate what we follow.  The lover motivated by Cheshek determines when the time is ripe for his happiness to be ensured, not just in the immediate present but in the future as well.

In the personality of Yaakov, Chefetz and Cheshek were one.  Rachel was a beautiful woman, but it was more than physical attraction that drew Yaakov to Rachel.  We know this because he experienced the delay of seven years as one of several days.  Yaakov was capable of waiting for Rachel for those seven years, which for an individual driven by Chefetz would have been unendurable.   Instead, his ability to delay gratification was motivated by Cheshek, rational and mature consideration.  Yaakov knew that Rachel was his divinely chosen wife, and that she was to be the mother of the future Jewish nation.  His view extended beyond his own immediate needs to that of the future they would jointly build.  This perception is further reinforced by the use of the words in Pasuk 20, “in his love for her.”  Had he loved her only for his immediate sensual needs, these words would make no sense.  For someone who loves for the immediate moment is selfish; he loves himself and seeks immediate gratification.  He is governed by his Chefetz, the pleasure principle.  But the love of Yaakov for his future partner in life was one governed not by greed or hunger, but one motivated by love of her; she as a distinct entity, not as a means to his end.  She was the mother of the Jewish nation, his divine soul mate, and reason dictated that he wait as long as it took.  For such a heroic marriage, seven years were but a few days.

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