Love versus Truth
30 October 2010
Today, we read a story of young lovers, in some ways, beautiful enough to make into a movie. Abraham sees his mortality vividly. He sees the death of his wife and attends to her burial. He must realize the emotional trauma caused by the Akeida, the “Binding” caused Isaac, since he and his son do not speak again after that ordeal. Experiencing all this, he, like most wise adults approaching the end of their days and lucky enough to be able to prepare for it, wants to know that things will be taken care of when he is gone.
Foremost among the pieces of unfinished business is that Abraham wants his boy to have a wife and family. But he does not trust Isaac to find a suitable woman himself. We should wonder what this tells us. Abraham makes his servant testify that he make a sincere effort to find a spouse from Abraham’s natal tribe. The servant is spectacularly successful, bringing back the model girl Abraham implored him to find.
Rebecca is the perfect spousal candidate: kind, strong, beautiful and she has the proper family lineage. When Isaac sees her, he becomes intimate with her, and falls in love with her. This is directly from the text.
Does Rebecca love Isaac? The text notably does not say. We know Rebecca is strong because she chose to leave her family and go with Abraham’s servant. Clearly, she could not have loved Isaac at that time, since all she knew of him then, was the tale told by Abraham’s servant, laden with gifts. And we know how this story unfolds: Rebecca gives birth to twins and in her husband’s dotage, she devises a plan to confuse Isaac into giving her favored son, Jacob, his blessing.
I would propose that Rebecca did not have the kind of affection for Isaac as Isaac had for her. And I would further propose that when it came down to real decisions with real consequences, when difficult decisions needed to be made, she felt there was little room for sentimentality. Brains sometimes have to win over heart. And it was in this way, for better or for worse, that we became a people, the “Children of Israel” – in other words, the progeny of Jacob. Had it been up to Isaac alone, we might have been the children of Esau. Had the children been able to be reconciled, we might have been the collective “Children of Isaac” – but Rebecca, using all her wits to create the outcome she could live with, ensured that the line that survived was that of Jacob.
So, there it is: intelligence versus love, brain versus heart, intellect versus emotion. Like entropy and enthalpy, like order versus chaos, like yin versus yang, intelligence and love are in constant struggle. Ask any smart teenager who can’t get a date for the Prom and you will see some manifestation of that struggle. And like all of these so-called opposing forces, I believe one of our jobs, as children of God, is to find the balance between them that makes our lives more meaningful.
What proportions of these makes us be the best we can be? Is it purely individual by individual, or can we make some valid generalizations? Certainly, this is not an either/or proposition. We are complex creatures, and we need both these traits and more to make us who we are. But there is also a theological argument that says God’s love underlies all that is, and that our enlightenment is to realize that love and share it.
This line of thinking is very serious, and it has been held by great Hassidic teachers and by such Jewish notables as R. Shlomo Carlebach and Jesus. On the other hand, and what I believe, is that what we think of as love is meaningless unless it is underpinned by a search for truth.
But, and please follow me for a moment into this tricky place, the more we find truth, the less we are able to love. I make this statement without proof but with my experience as my guide. The more we find truth, and by truth I mean wisdom and understanding of ourselves and the world around us, the less we are able to love blindly, but just as important for me, is that the more we seek and find truth, the less we are able to hate. I’ll get to the point soon.
This past week, I had the pleasure of communicating with Rabbi Stephen Landau whom I met at the National Havurah Institute this past August. In the course of our discussion, I described some fairly painful chapters in my youth, and how those traumas became the lens through which I interpreted all things in my young adult life, without even knowing how they were making me react. It was only when I was able to admit, and then reconcile the pain of that childhood that I became able to make rational decisions for my future.
Then Rabbi Landau described his most powerful lecture in homiletics. It was given by a visiting Baptist minister. The minister told his class, “Your wound is your message.” I was stunned at the simplicity and the wisdom it contained. “Your wound is your message.”
We have all experienced wounds. We have all been snubbed by someone whose affections we sought; or we have been discouraged by failure; we have been betrayed; we have been lied to; we have been abandoned; we have been ignored; our contributions have been unappreciated; we have been embarrassed; we have been humiliated; We all have wounds.
For many of us, we feed those wounds, keep them festering for long long stretches in our lives. For some, we die with those wounds unhealed. We use them throughout our lives to explain our experiences. For many of us, those wounds are too painful to admit.
Has anyone here felt unthanked for contributions they have made?
Has anyone here been lied to?
Has anyone here had a confidence betrayed?
Has anyone here felt rejected?
Does anyone here feel regret for a career not taken or a relationship
Has anyone here been embarrassed by someone?
Has anyone here done something whose shame still haunts them?
Has anyone here felt that they were the object of an unjustified grudge?
Has anyone here felt that life just gave them an unfair shake, time after time?
You are not alone. These are your wounds. These are all our wounds.
This Baptist minister said, “Your wound is your message.” Think about that. If you have not yet come to terms with that wound, it is your message. It is shaping your actions; that hurt is putting words in your mouth as you are speaking to people. That hurt may be making you turn away from someone in need. That hurt may make you callous when speaking with a child. That wound may be preventing you from even pursuing, let alone fulfilling your dreams. “Your wound is your message.”
But you can seek and find your truth; you can accept those difficulties in your past that guide your choices today; you can admit the pain that you have felt, but then realize that you will still be here to live out your life after your admission; you can realize that your pain did not take away your worthiness as a human being.
And if you can realize that every one around you carries his or her own wounds throughout their life, and they are no better than you if they realize it and no worse than you if they don’t; If you seek and find your secrets, then you are on the first step to neutralizing them. You are on the path to what Bhuddists call enlightenment. Your wound is still your message, but now, it becomes the well of your strength. Your wound of feeling unloved becomes the source of your kindness. Your wound of being unappreciated becomes the source for your charity. Your wound of regret becomes the source of support for other’s noblest ambitions.
Enlightenment is a state where emotions are not controlling your actions. This is what I meant by less love and less hate.
Enlightenment is not as fragile as emotions.
Often, we can not find enlightenment by ourselves. Sometimes we need a guide. Sometimes, two people with different wounds can be each other’s guide to enlightenment. And this, I believe, is the real story we read today. Isaac was a single adult male who had experienced his near death at the hands of his father and had just lost his mother. Rebecca was the maiden whose father sold her.
Critical thinking is what Rebecca brought to Isaac, while love is what Isaac gave to Rebecca. Either one alone would have been a footnote in our history. Together, they became the link that generated a nation.
May we be able to convert our wounds to our greatest strengths. May we be able to help others heal their wounds, and to accept their wisdom for ours. And may we, like Abraham, be able to reconcile our lives while we still have time. Because alone, we are mere footnotes. Together, we can make history.