Love, Distorter of Time

How often has a friend said, as he gets older, that “time seems to be going faster and faster every day.” And it is true, as we age, time does seem to accelerate. As young men, we were often anxious and impatient to “grow up already”. But time seemed to move slowly and every day was as during the “lazy days of summer.” But now, the heat of summer no sooner begins than it seems I am taking out the snow shovel and stamping the chill from my feet.

There are, of course, other times – in waiting rooms or airport security lines – when time seems to move at a glacial pace, when each second on the clock seems to take hours.

Could time really move at varying paces depending on our age? Could the movement of the clock really bend to our perceptions? The physicist might scoff, but our own experiences suggest that time, rather than a straight arrow, is an undulating chord.

Yaakov is a perfect case in point. Having fallen in love with Rachel, his Uncle Lavan gives permission for him to marry her, but only on the condition that he work for him for seven years. Seven years! An eternity! How could Lavan make such an unreasonable demand? Surely, Yaakov would rebel. Quite the opposite. For him, the years flew by. As our sages teach, for Yaakov, those years “seemed ... a few days because of his love for her.”

How could Yaakov not have chafed each and every day of his servitude? How could each moment not seem to be interminable to him? Simple, Love.

The Torah is clear that Yaakov was not working for Lavan but rather for Rachel. He was working be’Rachel. Not only did Yaakov feel that his time and effort was invested in his love for Rachel but he wanted it understood by everyone else that whatever labors he endured, he endured for one reason and one reason only, so he could marry the woman he loved; so he could wed Rachel.

Lavan, slippery and devious in his way, would not be able to deny this fact later. Mizrachi focuses on the words, be’ahavaso osa – because of his love for her. A moment of love is like an eternity. And so, Yaakov’s intense love for Rachel made the seven, long, hard years of labor under the hand of the despicable Lavan as the blink of an eye.

So many of us react with anger or anxiety when something we want is denied us for even a short period of time. But seven years? The Tur adds perspective to the years of Yaakov’s labors. Most of us might focus on the actual passage of time and how those long hours, days, weeks, months and years felt to Yaakov. The Tur focuses instead on Yaakov’s deep and abiding appreciation for Rachel’s worth.

We often consider any amount of time we expend “wasted” if it is expended for something we do not deem worthwhile. Certainly the opposite must also be true – if we value our endeavor then the time devoted to it is time well spent.

Seven years is a long time but not when you know the value of what the investment of that time brings to you! So it was that those seven years were to him “but a few days.” In his mind, there was no price too high to pay for Rachel. Sforno is explicit in this regard, “he thought that it was indeed appropriate to pay such an excessive price.”

Rachel, was well worth it.

Rav Aharon Kotler, z’l, whose 53rd yahrzeit was just observed, asked a perceptive question about Yaakov’s years of labor for Rachel, Whose idea was it for Yaakov to work for seven years? Lavan’s? Or Yaakov’s? The text suggests that it was Yaakov’s. “Yaakov loved Rachel, so he said, ‘I will work for you for seven years, for Rachel your younger daughter.’”(29:19)

Why would Yaakov suggest such a price without even waiting to hear what Lavan’s fee might be? Whatever Lavan’s demands, Yaakov had certainly proved himself resourceful enough to meet whatever was expected of him! So why seven years?

From this, Rav Aharon takes a life lesson that is more relevant in our modern times than even a generation or two ago. We live at a time when too many marriages fall apart. Not for lack of love. Indeed, our generation often seems awash in love. So why do these marriages falter and fail?

Not lack of love but rather for lack of preparation. Rav Aharon suggested that Yaakov was quick to offer the seven year term because he knew he was not ready to get married, establish a family and produce the twelve shevatim that would become Klal Yisrael.

Yaakov was wise enough to understand that he had to invest time, thought, sentiment, and reflection in order to prepare for marriage. As Lisa Aiken makes clear in her essay, Preparing Yourself For Marriage, ( “People often have the erroneous idea that good marriages just happen”. She suggests that the truth is otherwise; that it takes a lifetime to develop the ideal marriage.

What? A marriage doesn’t start out “ideal”? What about romance and love?

The notions of romance and love that fail to recognize not only that a marriage requires time to age but also that it cannot start except with sound preparation and awareness.

For Yaakov, those seven years allowed him to accomplish all that she suggests in her essay, that marriage should not be our sole source of meaning or self-worth, that rather than trying to find a mate to fit our image of who we should marry, we can learn about and appreciate a partner for who he or she is and that love results from committing ourselves to caring for a spouse.

Perhaps most importantly, and the point that Yaakov intuited, marriage demands hard work! Which is why is fourteen years in Ever’s Yeshiva prior to arriving to Lavan’s house, while more than enough time for reflection and learning, were not enough time for a successful learning.

Torah learning alone is not sufficient to make a marriage successful!

This truth astonishes many young men. Their idea seems to be that they need only be immersed in the Beis Midrash and then, on the day of their wedding, don a suit and go to the Chupah! I recall a young man who bragged that he was looking for a chavrusa “who should also double as a wife”!

Oy! Was he in for a shock.

It is true that the Beis Midrash can teach all the Torah one needs, but where will one attain the shimush, the practicum, the sechel for a full life – where all the knowledge has to be transformed into practical use?

Yaakov knew that to be a loving and sensitive husband, a model father and the progenitor of the shevatim, he had to be the epitome of honesty and sensitivity. The classroom for such lessons was not Ever’s Yeshiva or even his father’s house, but the world itself. Learning how to respond as a Yaakov to the evil in the world required the Lavan laboratory for a seven year term!

With such a life purpose and mission before him, Yaakov considered the seven long years he labored to marry Rachel but a few days. Had he pursued one of life’s many senseless narishkeiten, then those seven years would have definitely been as an eternity. But tending Lavan’s sheep in order to prepare for a meaningful life and marriage to Rachel was no hard labor or excessive price.

It could very well have been the greatest bargain ever made!