Be Careful How You Love
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
Our society tends to think and speak of love as a purely positive emotion. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that the Book of Genesis is filled with examples that debunk this notion. Two typical examples are found in Parshat Toldot and Parshat Vayetze.
“And Isaac loved Esau because his game was in his mouth, but Rebecca loves Jacob.”(Genesis 25:28) Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that this verse is indicative of a parenting mistake made by Isaac and Rebecca. In his view, parents should not only be perceived externally to be showing no preferential treatment, but should also work on their inner feelings of love towards their children. As the verse indicates, Isaac and Rebecca did not adhere to this methodology. Rabbi Hirsch implies that this was a contributing factor in Esau’s straying from the just path and the ensuing family feud. A few chapters later (Genesis 29:30-31), the Torah explicitly records that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah and that God saw that Leah was/felt hated. Gaining Jacob’s love becomes almost an obsession for Leah. Her pain is palpable, as the names of all her children express her heartfelt desire for Jacob’s love.
These examples carry a clear message – love can result in painful and tragic consequences. The story of Joseph and his brothers (later in the Book of Genesis) is another typical example. Jacob’s love for Joseph resulted in the unintended consequence of attempted fratricide, and a father mourning his son for twenty-two years. Like all other emotions and attributes, love must be meted out and managed in a caring,, sensitive, and judicious manner. While love alone can be painfully destructive, properly directed and managed, love results in peace, harmony, and an enriched existence for all.