The biblical romance between God and His people, just like all other emotional entanglements, is complicated.
Love is not just joy and sweetness. “Love hurts” as the song goes and nowhere is the range of emotions that love excites more obvious than in the Bible.
That Eve was made out of a bone from Adam’s breast is emblematic of the nature of how their relationship ought to be. The breast houses the heart. The heart has always been the symbol of love, of emotion. Creating Eve out of the rib is another way of showing how God envisioned the emotional link between the two humans. Their relationship was not meant to be just one of physical attraction, like the fruit of the forbidden tree: all external. Adam was delighted to have found a companion who offered more than the animals did. When the Torah talks about their coming together, it says “And that is why a person leaves his parents and stays closer to his wife” (Genesis 2:24). The very intimate relationship transcends that which one has had with one’s parents. Love and loss are inextricably linked.
Adam had “known” Eve of course, but had he loved her? Milton in “Paradise Lost” thought Adam loved her so much that he ate the same fruit only to be able to share her fate. The Bible does not say that. What it does imply is that after being driven out of Eden, life that had once come naturally now became a struggle and a process. Love grows, one imagines, through sharing the hard times. Still, the word “love” is not used in these early chapters of the Torah.
It is Abraham and Sarah who have the first manifestly close relationship. They share common goals and tried to understand if not anticipate the needs of the other. They have their differences, their conflicts. Nothing is perfect. It is hard to understand how a loving husband could offer his wife up to Pharaoh (Genesis 12:13) or Abimelech (Genesis 20:2) even if it was to save his own life. Passion is only hinted at later in the Midrash with Hagar, under the name of Keturah, the woman Abraham marries after Sarah dies (Genesis 25:1). Abraham had always loved Hagar and she him. But out of his loyalty and commitment to Sarah he had nothing to do with her after he sent her away at Sarah’s bidding. Hagar was so deeply in love with Abraham that she kept herself exclusively for him and waited until Sarah died before being able to marry him. For the rabbis to have even thought of such a possibility means they were not only aware of romantic love but actually admired it.
It is the next generation where love is specified. The sequence of words “And Isaac brought [Rebecca] into the tent of Sarah his mother and he took her to be his wife and he loved her” (Genesis 24:67) is key. If marriage as an arrangement came first, love came later, but it was not a perfect untrammelled romantic love. They had their conflicting goals and dreams and, finally, deceit over the blessing. Then their son Jacob fell in love with Rachel (Genesis 29:18). This was a physical love at first. She was better looking than Leah. She was, as we would say nowadays, “the love of his life.” But that relationship too was dogged with insecurity, rivalry, idolatry and finally guilt.
Another and very different example the Bible gives of love is the case of Shechem who first raped Dinah and then fell in love with her (Genesis 24:2, 3). Love grew, unlike the other biblical example of rape. Hundreds of years later Amnon, the son of King David, fell in love with his half sister Tamar, but after he raped her all he felt was revulsion (2 Samuel 13). Impetuous love it seems comes in different forms, and the line between love and hatred is a thin one.
Throughout the Bible, there is a fascinating parallel between human love and the Divine. The Greek word, agape has come to be used of spiritual desire, of a yearning that cannot be fulfilled in its entirety: something is missing, there is pain. And this describes God’s passion for His people.
Love, lost and found between God and humanity, pervades the Torah one way or another. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, God came looking for them. According to the text, He said, “Where are you?” Some understand this simply as a question of location. Others see it as a challenge, to define one’s spiritual state. I hear it as the cry of the lover who has been betrayed. “I thought I knew who you were and what you were doing, but now I realize I don’t know who you are anymore.”
Perhaps God “thought” that in creating man He could control him. But love is not control. Control, domination, exploitation is a denial of genuine love. Having created humanity with the capacity for choice, God has to set him free from his Garden of Eden. If you love someone, you must let him go. God wants unconditional love. It is just that we frail humans seem incapable of it.
The prophet Hoseah describes it beautifully the way he constructs the relationship between God and Man. When the Lord spoke through Hoseah, He said. “Go take a wife who is a harlot and will have children of harlotry, for the land has committed harlotry in departing from the Lord” (Hoseah 1:2).
Hoseah imagines the awful pain that a betrayed lover feels. It is the nature of love, spiritual and physical, to yearn for a perfect merging of two souls. The ideal is a relationship based on love not obligation. As Hoseah says “And it shall be on that day, says the Lord, that you shall call me my ‘Man’ (Ishi); and no longer my ‘Master’ (Baali)” (Hoseah 2:18). The relationship of “Ish Ve Isha,” a man for a woman and of course vice versa, is a relationship of total commitment. The relationship of a husband as a master “Baal” is just a contract.
Jeremy Rosen, after a career in the rabbinate and education in Europe, now lives, writes and teaches in New York and blogs at jeremyrosen.blogspot.com.
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