Judi's Journal 2-3-2012

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Love in the Hebrew Bible

By Judi Siegal

February is definitely heart month. The stores are filled with the little puffed, stuffed beauties in shades of pink and red, not to mention the luscious confections all dressed up to look like roses, kissing lips or hearts of love. And yep, there are those cuddly stuffed toys too, all in an attempt to win your lover’s affection. Love is definitely in the air and while in modern times we tend to commercialize it, the Bible certainly has much to say on the topic.
I guess you can say it all started with Eve. Actually, poor Adam didn’t have any choice in the matter since he was asleep while his partner was being created. It really wasn’t until the first couple ate from the Tree of Knowledge that they realized their sexuality. And I just love the way the Bible says how Adam “knew” his wife and conceived Cain and later Abel. Maybe if we would spend more time learning to “know” our spouses, we would have fewer divorces.
Later on in Genesis, we meet Abraham and Sarah, the first Jewish couple. Lots of love there. Abraham as the first patriarch is the epitome of hospitality, while Sarah protects her son Isaac’s interests for future leadership of the nascent Jewish nation by expelling Hagar and Ishmael out into the wilderness. Sarah is faithful and loving to her husband and is often citied as a Jewish woman’s role model.
Abraham sends his steward, Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac. He meets Rebecca at the local well. In a later story in Exodus, Moses meets his Zipporah, also at a well. It may be deduced here that today as in ancient days, men meet eligible women at local watering holes!
Sometimes winning the woman of your dreams takes a lot of work. Jacob works seven years for his uncle Laban before he can marry Rachel. Imagine his surprise when he discovers he has been tricked and has married the myopic older sister, Leah. To win Rachel, he must labor another seven years. To this day, Jewish brides are veiled as they walk down the aisle, just like they were in Jacob’s day. Unlike Jacob whose bride had her face covered, today’s Jewish bridegroom is fully aware of whom he is marrying!
The next famous lovers in the Bible are the stuff that Hollywood loves. In fact movies have been made of their amorous adventures albeit grossly inaccurate and corny by today’s standards. However, the original stories are juicy tales. Take Samson and Delilah, for example. Here we have Israel’s strong man brought to his knees over a haircut! I just love that one! Oh, he resists several times when Delilah pleads with him to share the secret of his great strength, but men will be men and eventually even Samson cannot resist the feminine wiles of Delilah. Of course when he admits that he is a Nazarite, forbidden to shave his hair, his doom is sealed as Delilah shears his locks, betraying him to his enemies, the Philistines. I liked it better when he slew his enemies with the jawbone of an ass.
Enter David and Bathsheba. Now, here is a love story ripped from today’s headlines: “Leader of great nation has an extramarital affair.” Does that sound familiar? Only in the Biblical version, David, the beloved king of Israel is chastised for his behavior by the prophet Nathan. In a story worthy of the Lifetime Movie Network, David gets Bathsheba pregnant and connives to have her husband, Uriah, sent to the front line of battle so he will be killed and David can marry Bathsheba. In the true moral style of the Hebrew Bible, David’s sin is punished when their child dies. Not even the Israelite kings were above the law. Maybe today’s leaders should look closely at this story.
While I have taken a rather humorous view of some of the Bible’s famous couples, I would like mention that the concept of love is a recurring theme in the Jewish Bible. The very watchword of the Hebrew faith commands us to love God with all our heart and soul and breath. As we are to love God, God also loves the people that are God’s creations. Jewish tradition teaches us that God is a loving parent who guides us and protects us and when the Jewish nation accepted the Torah at the foot of Mt. Sinai, they took on all the responsibilities of leading a moral and ethical life by following the laws in the Torah. Every time a Jew prays the Shema prayer, he/she acknowledges God’s love. This act of devotion done upon rising and before going to bed, is a beautiful expression of love.
May we carry God’s message of love to all people so that we may bring about peace. That is my heartfelt wish.
Judi is a former teacher and Jewish educator.  She lives in Sun Valley with her husband, Phil.