The more impetuous a relationship’s beginning, the more difficult it may be to stabilize it later. This is graphically 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 (1 Samuel 25), and of David for Bathsheba (Samuel 11-12)–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”).
When G-d created Eve and presented her to Adam, he exclaimed: “This time, bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh! This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken from man.” Spontaneously saying “this time,” he expressed his delight and emotional arousal–his love at first sight–for his newfound mate.
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.
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, 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.
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” (1 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 (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.
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 (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.