The more impetuous a relationship’s beginning, the more difficult it may be to stabilize it later. This is illustrated by the five primary examples of love at first sight described in the Bible.The first of these, that of Adam for Eve, is implied in the account of their creation. The following four — that of Rebecca for Isaac (Genesis 24:64-65), of Jacob for Rachel (ibid. 29), of David for Abigail (I Samuel 25), and of David for Bathsheba (II Samuel 12) — are described explicitly. These five, in their historical order, are descending examples of how the intensity of love at first sight can be focused into mature, rooted love. This ability to relate to another person with deep, concentrated attachment is known as da’at (“knowledge”).1) Adam and Eve
When G-d created Eve and presented her to Adam, Adam exclaimed: “This time, bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh! This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken from man” (Genesis 2:23). Spontaneously saying “this time,” he expressed his delight and emotional arousal — his love at first sight — for his newfound mate.
2) Rebecca and Isaac
Before Rebecca even saw Isaac, she had agreed, with devotion and self-sacrifice, to be betrothed to him. On her way to meet him, she saw a man approaching in the field and knew intuitively that it must be him. She experienced such intense emotions of love at her first sight of him that she nearly fell off her camel. By virtue of having so completely bound herself to him beforehand, her soul was able to recognize (know) him as her true soul mate even before they had formally met.
3) Jacob and Rachel
In Kabbalah, the couple that more than any other personifies the love between G-d and the people of Israel — and exemplifies, as well, the ideal state of manifest love between husband and wife — is Jacob and Rachel, whose relationship is also the Torah’s prototypical example of romantic love.
Like Isaac, Jacob knew that he was going to marry his relative’s daughter. When he arrived at the well near Haran, the shepherds told him that the approaching maiden was Rachel, his uncle Laban’s daughter. His love at first sight enabled him to single-handedly roll back the boulder covering the well at which the shepherds watered their flocks, in order to let Rachel’s flocks drink. And he cried, for he sensed that he would not merit to be buried with her (Rashi on Genesis 29:11) and that there would be difficulties and delays before they could marry.
However, his da’at was not complete enough to be immune to deception. He knew only that he was coming to marry one of Laban’s daughters; since he did not know which, his psychological preparation was conditional. Therefore Laban was able to deceive him by giving him Leah first, in place of Rachel. Despite the intensity of his love for Rachel, on his wedding night he did not know whom he was marrying.
In both of these cases (2 and 3), the parties were psychologically prepared to meet their soul mates, so events proceeded relatively smoothly. Psychological preparation for an event serves as a mental “guard” or protective shield, which controls and directs the intense emotions of the heart.
4) David and Avigail
In contrast, King David was not psychologically prepared for either of his confrontations with love at first sight.
When he first met Abigail, he was on the way to avenge her husband Naval’s extreme ingratitude and stinginess. Seeing her, he fell in love and wanted to marry her. Not having been prepared for their encounter, his love at first sight was initially devoid of mature da’at altogether.
But Abigail, the “woman of goodly intelligence” (I Samuel 25:3) convinced him that they should not marry until the time was right. Being a prophetess, she knew that David would fail with Bathsheba, and she succeeded in convincing him to wait in order not to fail in her case as well (Talmud, Megilah 14b). With her wisdom and charm, she succeeded in calming his emotions, allowing his approach to their relationship to be guided by his da’at.
5) David and Bathsheba
In the case of Bathsheba, however, David’s mind was not only unable to control his emotions but became subordinate to them. Although she was predestined to be his wife, he acted on impulse, and was unable to wait to take her until the time was ripe (Talmud, Sanhedrin 107a). Once she became pregnant, he arranged that her husband be killed in battle in order that he be able to marry her. This is clearly the lowest level of da’at that can accompany the experience of love at first sight.
Exceptions that Instruct the Rule
One should not expect to be struck with an intense feeling of predestination when he first meets his predestined spouse. As a rule, the couple’s love experience grows and develops as they nurture it together throughout their lives.
Nonetheless, every rule has its exceptions, and thus we find these examples in the Torah of the intense experience known as love at first sight. Indeed, G-d Himself “fell in love” with His original vision of the Jewish People devotedly performing His will on earth. According to our sages, this love at first sight is what motivated G-d to create the world (Bereishit Rabbah 8:7; Zohar Chadash 121c).
It is important to remember, however, that this phenomenon is the exception that proves the rule.
There are thirteen general rules by which logical inferences may be drawn according to the Torah. One of these is the following: “When a particular case included in a general case is singled out to inform us about something novel [i.e., an exception], it is singled out not only to instruct us concerning itself, but is to be applied to the whole of the general case.”
In other words, every exception tells us something about the rule that we would not otherwise have known. In our case, the exceptional experience of love at first sight is a graphic manifestation of the intensity and romance that developing love does eventually achieve as well. The converse is also true: if the experience of love at first sight is real, it will eventually achieve the stability and rootedness of developing love.
Instances of love at first sight are thus instructive even for the majority of couples, who do not experience such intensity at the start of their relationship. Rather than feeling that their love is somehow deficient or unromantic, they should view examples of love at first sight as enlightening portents of the intensity into which their love should — and hopefully will — develop.
Those couples who do experience love at first sight should feel fortunate that their relationship has been blessed with such a great intensity from the outset. At the same time, however, they should be aware that the more impetuous a relationship’s beginning, the more difficult it may be to stabilize it afterwards. Still, with the necessary effort, the initial surge of genuine love at first sight will settle back into the “rule” and strike roots in the deeper essences of the couple. In this way the couple’s love will develop and grow organically, just as in the more common case of developing love.
Of course, not every case of what passes for love at first sight is genuine. If the exceptional experience carries within it nothing of the “rule” — if it contains no seed of settled, mature love — it is probably nothing more than an infatuation that will dissipate as quickly as it appeared.
Experiencing Love at First Sight
Recognizing one’s soul mate depends on sensing the shared soul-root. This is the most fundamental type of insight there is.
Normally, love is born in the heart only after the initial, seminal flash of insight has, through deliberate meditation, ripened in the womb of the mind into a fully-developed idea and been assimilated into one’s world view. Just as physical pregnancy requires time, so does this process, for the mentality that prevailed prior to the introduction of the new insight must come to grips with it. Since the mind and its thought-patterns are not fully refined and rectified, the introduction of a new element of truth requires that the previous mental structure be entirely re-evaluated and reconstructed in its light, and this takes time.
Exceptionally, however, one may experience love at “first sight”; love may appear simultaneously with the initial insight, without the time lapse typically required for it to develop and bear fruit. This can happen in one of two ways:
If the love is characterized by the non-self-awareness and non-self-orientation (bitul) that accompanies the flash of insight, it is barely experienced as an “emotion” in the conventional sense of the word at all. It can, in this way, shine with the brilliance of the original pristine insight. The essence of such a love-experience can be said to be contained within the mind’s eye — as if the heart had “risen” into the eyes.
Alternatively, the seed of love can develop in the womb of the mind before being born in the heart, but without requiring the usual extended period of time, or in fact any time at all. Here, the emotion of love is experienced as an attribute of the heart, but one’s mind is so refined that the emotion flows through it freely and naturally. The self produces no “friction” to slow the birth of the emotions from the mind.
We have likened the birth of love from the seminal insight deposited and nurtured in the womb of the mind to the conception and birth of a child, and further likened love at first sight to conceiving and giving birth without an intervening period of pregnancy. This absence of a gestation period will be the norm in the future.
In the messianic era, both the relationship between husband and wife and that between G-d and the Jewish People will be one of constant falling in love at first sight. Paradoxically, this continuous state of romantic passion will be fully integrated with the settled, stable love that characterizes seasoned relationships.
The foretaste of the world to come in this world is Shabbat (Talmud, Berachot 57b). Shabbat is essentially above the normal time-consciousness of the six days of creation. During the six days of the week (which correspond to the six emotions of the heart), reality is aware of and focused on itself. On Shabbat, the consciousness of created reality returns to its source in the Divine plan, and the emotions ascend to the level of the mind’s vision.
On Shabbat, G-d re-experiences love at first sight, just as He did before creation. And since the world is continuously being created from G-d’s consciousness, on Shabbat we too are able to experience love at first sight. We can both regain our inspiration with life in general, and fall in love anew with our spouses.