Finding a spouse is unique in that it requires Divine guidance along with personal judgement and free will.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is Chayei Sarah, (23:1–25:18), and in it we read about the search for a wife for Isaac. It is the first recorded search for a wife in the Torah, and the one and only record of engaging the use of a shadchan – matchmaker – to carry out the task.
The matchmaker is Abraham’s servant Eliezer. Eliezer’s name is a subtle reminder of the need for Divine assistance in all that we do – especially when it comes to choosing a marriage partner. El-ezer means “God’s help.” As if to remind us that we need God’s help in everything that we do. Through the matchmaker Eliezer, God helped Isaac to find Rebecca.
The story opens with Abraham asking Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac. Eliezer was required to travel back to Abraham’s homeland to find a wife from Abraham’s extended family – Canaanite girls were strictly off limits. Although most of the people back in Haran were not technically Jewish, they had positive character traits that made them worthy to marry Isaac.
There were actually two conditions that Abraham attached to the match: that the woman come from Haran, Abraham’s previous homeland, and that she be willing to leave her family and move to Canaan, where Abraham and Isaac were now living.
When Eliezer asked, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Can Isaac then come and move to them?” Abraham replied that no, Isaac must not leave the promised land of Canaan. This was a deal-breaker. In fact, it is interesting to note that Isaac was the only patriarch that never ever left the Land of Israel.
It is also noted that Abraham made Eliezer swear an oath to be faithful to his instructions. We see from here how serious marriage must be taken. Marriage is one of the most important choices a person can make. It is important to invest in making the best choice possible. Sometimes there can be no negotiations or compromise.
Eliezer gets going on his journey and eventually arrives in the destination city, stopping at the local well. As he sees ladies making their way to the well for the evening drinking of the cattle, he prays: “God of my master, Abraham, please give me success today, and show your love to my master, Abraham. This is my request: I will ask one of the girls, ‘Please give me a drink from your jug.’ If she says, ‘Yes, have a drink, and I will give drink to your camels, too!’—let her be the one you have selected as Isaac’s wife. This is how I will know that you have shown your love to my master.”
And so it was. A woman by the name of Rebecca appeared on the scene and did everything described in Eliezer’s prayer. It is noted that even though Rebecca is described as beautiful, that wasn’t one of the prerequisites. More important was the girl’s generosity, the sharing, and the caring. That said, the Torah describes her as beautiful to tell us that we should only marry a person that we find to be attractive.
Eliezer then went with Rebecca to meet her family and asked them for permission to take her back with him to be Isaac’s wife. Indeed, it is noted that Eliezer continued to observe her to determine if God had indeed answered his prayer. We see from here that one way to evaluate a potential is to meet the family and see how the potential spouse interacts with them. Spending time with family and friends of the person you are considering marrying is a great way to uncover their integrity, values, and personality traits.
\It is noted that when Eliezer asks Rebecca’s family for permission to take her back to Canaan, their first response was, “Let us ask her.” From here we learn that nothing can be done in marriage against the will of either of the parties involved.
Well, permission was granted and they were off. Eliezer’s prayers were clearly and fully answered.
There is also a financial reality in getting married. Abraham knew he would have to do some “convincing” to lure the right marriage partner. This is why Abraham sent Eliezer with ten camels and all types of gifts. While marrying for financial gain is in poor taste, those looking to court a spouse are advised to show some of the attractions in agreeing to marry. Whether it’s taking a girl out to a restaurant, paying a matchmaker or paying to join an online dating service, marriage costs money.
Finding a spouse is unique in that it requires Divine guidance along with personal judgement and free will. Just as Eliezer asked God for help when finding a spouse, so must we.
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.