Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Walk Article


Chaye Sarah-5773

Rabbi David Walk


            Perhaps the biggest decision a person makes in their lifetime is whom to marry. It's right up there with choice of profession, sports teams and jelly bean flavors. Was I being facetious?  Perhaps not.  In this week's Torah reading we not only have the marriage of Yitzchak to Rivka, we also have a detailed description of the marriage arrangements, which don't include much in the way of choice.  A trusted family factotum travels great distances to find the proper young (traditionally, very young) woman for the master's only son and heir.  Although she is asked for her consent to the union, Rivka doesn't seem to ask any of the questions we'd assume should be asked to make the consent a reasonable decision.  There's no mention of his looks, intelligence or entertainment preferences.  Yitzchak isn't even asked.  His choices seem to be take her or take her.  No, that wasn't a typo.  Where're the dating scene, the online data search, the probing questions, like 'Do you like reality TV'?  But my real question is:  What can we moderns learn from this story since it doesn't reflect our reality at all?

            Well, maybe nothing.  Professor David Elgavish of Bar Ilan University's Department of Bible says that the story of the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca is a rich Biblical source for studying marriage practices and customs in the ancient world.  Yeah, and, except for a few college professors, who cares?  I actually like history, but I don't read the Bible to learn anthropology.  I need stuff which affects my life, and hopefully makes me a better person.  So, what can we learn from this account?  The question is actually even more acute because in this particular case the text does the unusual step of repeating most of the action.  It's like we get an instant replay, just like the NFL.  Not only that but this is the longest chapter in Genesis, and no other story is presented with such exquisite detail.

            I believe that there are in our text a number of important ideas which can affect the reader in a positive way.  I, personally, don't have something to say about every detail, but that doesn't bother me, because, perhaps, those points are important to different generations in different circumstances.  The emphasis at the beginning of the narration is to my thinking extremely important.  In the search for a proper wife for his master's heir, the trusted servant is looking for a woman of outstanding character, especially kindness.  There's no mention of the things that so many seek, like looks, wealth or family prominence.  Wouldn't this be a better world if the first question asked before a blind date would be:  Is he/she kind?  And, of course, in the story the deal maker is Rivka's outstanding aptitude for hospitality and kindness to strangers.

            But for me the truly momentous material is at the end of the chapter.   The potential mates encounter each other in a rather awkward moment, while Rivka is approaching Avraham's encampment.  Again, Professor Elgavish makes a big deal out of the sociological ramifications of putting on a veil and descending from a camel.  Neither of these actions seems like a pivotal activity in our scene, but to each his own.  Rather I'm thinking that this first meeting isn't working out so well, and it doesn't look so good for the shidduch.  However, that's not what happens.  Yitzchak listens to what happened, and accepts the deal.  Rivka had already accepted it before leaving her home.  So, now comes the concluding verse in the story and it has four verbs describing the actions of Yitzchak.  In the first half of the verse Yitzchak brings Rivka to the tent of his mother and takes her as a wife.  I believe that these are technical terms and actions signifying the establishment of a state of marriage between them.  This is similar to the two stages of a traditional Jewish wedding, the Kiddushin (betrothal, giving of the ring) and the Chupa (consummation, Sheva Brachot).  At that point we have no idea how this is all going to turn out, but now comes the most significant phrase in the chapter.

            At this point we are told two things, that Yitzchak loved Rivka and that he was consoled or comforted over his mother's death.  What?  Here's the point:  Just like there are two stages to the wedding process; there are two objectives in a marriage.  The first is love, a touching relationship between husband and wife, which includes both physical and emotional attachments.  If any reader doesn't understand that last sentence, please, contact me privately.  But notice, in the ideal Jewish marriage the love comes after the wedding.  In our age of love matches, rather than arranged marriages, I would say that in the ideal marriage the initial love deepens and matures over the years.  Now the second idea, he is comforted after his mother's death.  Something significant is happening.  Rashi says that all the miracles which occurred during the life of Sarah returned, and I think that he is just saying the point I want to make in another idiom.

            Rabbi Soloveitchik, in another context, explains that there are two paradigms for marriage, natural and covenantal.  The natural format is relatively obvious.  They get married in a socially acceptable way for the purpose of having children and establishing the building blocks of a healthy society.  Then there's covenantal marriage, which sees marriage in an historical framework.  Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik (the Rav's nephew) wrote that these couples have faith in the future.  Okay, but there's so much more.  They see their marriage in both directions of time.  It renews a past ideal and builds for a better future.  Why was Yitzchak comforted?  Maybe you can say he was a Mama's boy, and never got over her death (I actually said that in a previous article).  However, I think his consolation came from the fact that when his mother died he thought that this template for marriage died with her, because he never saw another covenantal marriage.  And imagine his incredible joy when he discovered that he had such a marriage!

            For some reason weddings and marriages are on my mind, and the true hope for a successful marriage must have the desire to achieve true love, but must aspire to something more, covenantal marriage, which is for the ages.  Of course, it helps if you find a Rivka.


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Sunday, November 4, 2012

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