Over the past few months two different friends informed me that they are getting divorced. In both cases I was surprised, and both times a little heartbroken. The news made me grateful for my marriage, but also reminded me how it requires continual work. Part of that means learning what makes a good marriage, and Judaism certainly has many pearls of wisdom on this issue.
The first time the Torah uses the word “love” in reference to a couple is in the story of Yitzhak and Rivkah. We learn that first Yitzhak and Rivkah were married, and then, only after marriage, does the text say that he loves her. But shouldn’t it have been the opposite? Doesn’t love precede marriage?
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak, one of the Polish Chasidic Masters, explains regarding this verse that there are two types of love. The first type of love is that which is based on fulfilling one’s emotional or physical needs. That type of love is nothing more than self-love, and is bound to dissipate.
But there is a higher type of love: that which relates to marriage as a mitzvah. A mitzvah is an act that reveals G-d’s presence in the world. Yitzhak and Rivkah wanted their marriage to act as a vessel to achieve this exalted goal. The story records Yitzhak’s love for Rivkah after marriage to teach that their relationship was founded on this higher love, a love of mitzvah, and not self-fulfillment.
A relationship that places God at the center changes the entire dynamic; the couple does not ask, “What have you done for me lately?” but rather, “How can we bring the presence of Hashem into our home?” It is this type of love that the Torah outlines as a foundation for a successful marriage.
Though this paradigm is a difficult one, for me it serves as an ultimate goal. A marriage based on such high ideals, even if it never reaches them, is already a big step!