6 Kislev 5774 / Nov. 8-9, 2013
In this week's portion, Vayetzeh, we find one of most intriguing love stories in the Bible. Jacob lays eyes on Rachel for the first time (yes she was his first cousin; no that wasn't weird at the time), and knows that they're meant to be together. He immediately proceeds to water her flocks for her, and lets her know who he is and his relationship to her. After a month of serving in her father Laban's house, he is asked what his desired wages are. He says that he'd be willing to work seven years for the privilege of marrying her. Laban agrees to the deal, and the Torah tells us that those seven years "seemed for him but a few days because of his love for her."
As most love stories do, this one has a bit of an interesting twist. When the time comes to marry Rachel, his uncle throws a feast and ultimately tricks Jacob by having him marry Rachel's older sister, Leah (setting Leah up for a lifetime of feeling disappointed and unloved by her husband, given his passion for her sister). Laban tells Jacob that he can also have Rachel as a wife (as soon as next week!), provided Jacob agrees to work another seven years. Jacob agrees to these news terms, and a week later, Rachel becomes his second wife (with two concubines to shortly follow - quite the family unit!).
Ultimately, Jacob has to work for 14 years in order to marry Rachel (seven before marrying her, and seven after).
Granted, Biblical years and contemporary years don't always match up (Biblical lifespans were just a bit longer than ours today…), but the amount of work that Jacob was willing to do in order to "earn" the right to marry Rachel is truly incredible.
As we all know, relationships are hard work. Most of us don't necessarily think of manual labor (or shepherding) as constituting such work, but it's a meaningful metaphor for us to learn from. Jacob models for us the fact that we should be willing to work our butts off, over an extended period of time, for those we love. For some, this means investing in their relationships and deepening self-understanding, putting personal dreams on hold for the benefit of your family, and/or simply doing what needs to get done in order to put food on the table. For others, such as our military families who are often apart from their loved ones for months at a time, hard work for love takes on a similarly powerful meaning.
This Shabbat, reflect on the lengths you would go to for love. Are you being healthily selfless when called upon to be such in your relationships? Are you willing/able to put the happiness and well-being of others ahead of your own? Where do you draw the line and why?