Would there be reality television without dating shows? The first episode of The Bachelor aired 20 years ago, and now there are too many “find love on TV” shows to count. Love Island, 90 Day Fiancé, Love on the Spectrum – these are just a few of the dozens and dozens of dating show iterations that are now staples of our television landscape. Currently one of the most popular shows is a Netflix series called Love Is Blind, a “social experiment” where single men and women look for love and get engaged, all before meeting in person.
Full disclosure: I’ve not watched a single one of these reality shows. It’s not out of judgment at all; on the contrary, it’s simply because I’m more of a Keeping Up With the Kardashians kind of rabbi. The common denominator is my desire to see how intimate relationships are formed. Reality TV plays into the romantic notion that falling in love is part magic and part serendipity. Actual reality, though, is much more complicated, but in a way, makes a lot more sense.
Perhaps this week’s Torah portion can help explain. We read from Parshat Chayei Sarah, which marks the transition from one generation to the next. Beginning with Sarah’s death, we learn about Isaac and his courtship with Rebekkah, the list of Abraham’s decedents, and the death of Abraham and his burial at the cave of Machpelah. Through it all, the family continues to push their way through experiences of loss and grief into the next chapter of life.
As Abraham is working to build a sustainable future for his son Isaac, he considers which lessons will be the most impactful and which values will be the most beneficial in a mate. We’ll never know exactly how he came to this answer, but he tells his servant that in looking for a partner for Isaac, “She must feed the animals and you, she must not worship ‘other’ gods, she must be willing to follow you.”
To be clear, neither partner in a marriage should be subservient to the other. Rather, the deeper concern Abraham is expressing is that morals and values between parties line up. From better communication with each other to providing a stable environment for raising a family, having this basic shared foundation simply makes sense.
In my years as a rabbi, I’ve been asked to officiate many weddings. In the early discussions with a couple, one of my first questions to them is based on this week’s Torah portion. What are your values? What are your guides in life? Love at first sight (or “at first episode”) is a romantic idea, but a successful marriage needs time for this exploration. What we learn from Abraham in his last moments in our story is that shared vision and values are truly what make strong and lasting partnerships.