Did God Invent Love at First Sight?
How did your parents meet?
As a religious school teacher at a Reform Jewish synagogue, each year I ask my sixth-grade students to think about their parents, or any two people they know who are happily married. How did those people become a couple?
Over the years, I've heard wonderful stories about blind dates and pool parties, about fender-benders that led to dinner and people who were expected fall for one person and ended up with someone entirely different. But my favorite story came from a boy whose parents – I'll call them Jackie and Scott – met while they were each traveling through Europe on a post-college jaunt. Jackie was with some girlfriends, and Scott with his best buddies, when their paths crossed for a few quick minutes somewhere in Italy. Although they didn't have time for more than a few words, they each saw something in the other that they didn't want to lose. So they exchanged phone numbers and promised to connect once they returned back home.
Things weren’t so easy back in the U.S., however, as Jackie and Scott lived in different states and both had good careers underway. Still, they made room in their lives for one another, and eventually combined those lives into one.
Serendipitous encounters like this are not just a modern phenomenon. In fact, a similar encounter is at the heart of what I believe is the most beautiful love story in the Bible: the tale of Isaac and Rebekah.
As the story begins, the matriarch Sarah has died, and her bereaved husband, Abraham, begins the task of finding a wife for their son, Isaac. Abraham tells his servant to travel to the land of his birth to find a suitable young woman. The servant is understandably nervous, because he wants to please his boss. So when he arrives at his destination, he prays for God to send him a sign so he'll know which girl is the right girl to choose.
"The girl to whom I say, 'Tip your pitcher and let me drink,' and who replies, 'Drink; and let me water your camels too' – let her be the one You have designated for Your servant Isaac," he prays.
At that very moment, out comes Rebekah, who says precisely what the servant prayed she would. What's more, when the servant proposes that she come with him to marry Isaac, she agrees on the spot. She leaves her home and, with an open heart, travels the many miles to where Abraham and Isaac live. And the moment Isaac lays eyes on her, he finds a comfort that has eluded him since his mother died.
It is love at first sight, and in many ways, a match made in Heaven.
It seems to me that just like Abraham’s servant, we all make deals and strike bargains to cope with the uncertainties of attraction. "If he calls me tonight, it means he likes me," we'll say, or "If she looks up at me, then I'll go over and say hi." But try as we might, there’s no way make sense of the mysterious and incomprehensible process by which we fall in love. The sad truth is, we have absolutely no control over the unknowable moment when an ordinary person becomes "the one."
Look around and you’ll see that love is nearly always the product of a sequence of events that may not have happened, that most likely almost didn’t happen – but did. Some call it destiny and some call it luck, but to me, it’s nothing short of a miracle. Personally, I don’t find God in a synagogue or sanctuary; I find God in that unlikely, unpredictable, shouldn’t-have-happened moment when things between two people fall into place, and a reimagined future starts to take shape.
Jackie and Seth could easily have never found each other – but they did. And as a result, there's an eager 11-year-old sitting at his desk, with his mother's smile and his father's sense of humor, waving his hand toward the ceiling, ready to tell me how his parents met.
This essay was originally published on November 13, 2014.