Torah Thoughts for Today
Monday, January 19, 2004
#5 Perfecting Male and Female through Marriage
Perfecting Male and Female Through Marriage:
Primal Lessons of the Jewish Forefathers and Mothers
(Relating to the Weekly Torah Portion “Chayei Sarah” (“Life of Sarah”) read in Synagogue. Genesis, Chapter 23, verse 1 – Chapter 22, verse 18. English text and commentary at
Dedicated to my parents.)
A lot of space is devoted to the saga of a search for a good wife for Isaac.
Abraham sends his emissary Eliezer back to his old homeland on a mission to find a suitable spouse for his son. After a long journey, he amazingly meets Rebecca at a watering hole (where else? – but this one is for thirsty camels). After some negotiation with her family, she agrees to go back to the house of Abraham and marry Isaac.
Why does the Torah devote so much footage to the details of a how an ancient couple was matched up, you may ask? Not only in this case, but why are we given details about the original state and dynamics of Abraham and Sarah’s marriage? Why does it matter when we later read about how Jacob marries? And all the little details about these couples’ struggles to produce the right children, and how they escaped from outside threats to their unions?
Some may comment and say, well these are all nice ancient moral tales that have little to do with modern everyday realities. But any knowledgeable observer of the contemporary dating and social scene knows that many millions (hundreds of millions?) of people today are bereft of meaningful relationships, and are desperate to find their right partner in life. So there is actually a lot of turmoil both on and below the surface as people struggle to make sense of the true nature and need of men for women, and women for men, that goes beyond just casual relationships, and begs for some answers and solutions.
Many people don’t realize that the Torah is actually extremely “scientific”. It has a logical, almost mathematical, structure. Its very beginning, the narrative of the Creation of the world is the axiomatic premise for all that follows. To argue that Creation is “myth” is to expunge THE “Mission Statement”. The grand premise of all premises is compacted into the descriptions and circumstance surrounding the creation of Adam and Eve. They are not two mythical Adonis-like beings frolicking around nude in a divine zoological park. They are the axiomatic prototypes of all subsequent HUMAN men and women and their relationships to follow:
Adam, representing all mankind stands at the apex of the Universe, God’s ultimate creation.
Adam was created alone, but also diverges into male and female.
It was not good for Adam to be alone, so a spouse, Eve, is created for him.
They are told to be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth.
They are described as “one flesh” which is primarily manifested in their sexual union and procreation of children.
So far, so good.
But when they eat from some mysterious Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Question: What’s wrong with “knowledge”? Answer: Some other time…), they have stumbled over a fatal trip-wire and somehow trigger the onset of a dark fatal notion called “death”, since God had told them, on the day you eat of it you shall surely die.
Now, no normal person wants to die, and everyone is always searching for someone special to share their life with, and to raise a nice family with them that will live on and on through its own having of children.
The premise and axiom of the Torah was that God wanted harmonious and perfected unions of male and female. Adam and Eve exemplify this, but they do not fulfill its potential. The blueprint remains on the planning boards until such time as better candidates appear on the stage of human development. Humankind must give rise to an extraordinary species of giants of the human and divine spirit, who will propel the world on a trajectory of Eternal Life…
It is Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel and Leah who are selected as the primary model couples who will lay down the kind of foundation for humanity that should have been done by the First Couple of human history, Adam and Eve.
The purpose and destiny of a male and female coupling is not just another act in the animal kingdom, but has to involve a literal higher calling.
Judaism teaches that when a couple is brought together and produce children they are not just emulating the Divine, they are actually partnering with God to produce Godly human beings. The physical parents provide the body, and God provides the inner life force, the soul (“nefesh” or “neshama”), and thus the human beings that are born become vessels capable of connecting not just with each other, but also with the Divine.
Hidden within all the minutia of how the marital matches for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were discovered, established, and consummated, are “secret recipes” and ingredients for that entity which will be created called The Children Of Israel, the forefathers of the Jewish people. Evil influences are intolerable in this formulation of a unique people, and that is why Ishmael and Esau, because of their cruelty, are excluded from its foundations.
When Eliezer was at a loss who to pick as Isaac’s wife from a field of strangers, he came up with a formulation that is rooted in premises of Abraham’s life. Compassion and kindness for the stranger was Abraham’s hallmark. It was also a unique embodiment of the Divine trait of Mercy, without which there can be no justice and no moral society. It would take history a long time to learn this. Ancient civilizations based on slavery and serfdom would eventually crumble completely as the force of Abraham’s teachings marched on inexorably, as the values of ancient Israel triumphed over ancient Egypt and Rome and other cruel empires.
So when Eliezer comes up with the litmus test for who would meet the perfect profile of a suitable spouse for Isaac, it is axiomatic that he will look for the one who most expresses the Abraham’s quality of Loving-Kindness. When Rebecca offered water to both Eliezer AND his animals, he knows that he has struck gold. THIS is THE girl who will be Isaac’s wife. It’s not just a case of trite do-goodism, but rather a glimpse of an absolute Divine quality: Mercy, without which no person can hope to avoid Divine Justice.
Whereas Eve enacted a life-reducing act by reaching for the forbidden and inducing expulsion, Rebecca on the other hand performs a life-sustaining act with qualities of Revival.
Whereas Eve opened herself to the influence of an evil advisor, Rebecca follows the lead of a kind emissary.
Whereas Eve is tempted into an unknown that breaks with her husband’s will, Rebecca goes into the unknown relying on her faith and is united with her destined husband.
Whereas Eve is seduced by a serpent and falls into his trap, Rebecca is able to overpower the machinations of her wicked brother and escape his grip.
Whereas Eve has children, Cain and Abel, who kill each other, Rebecca will be wise enough to help avoid this when she helps Jacob escape from Esau.
And in perhaps one of the most dramatic differences between the two, it is Eve who lures her husband into her own fallen condition, whereas it is however Rebecca who will guide her son Jacob to “trick” his father Isaac into giving him the Godly patriarchal blessings and outfox the scheming Esau.
There are many other instances and examples that show conclusively how the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, through their deeds and actions set the foundation and provided the role models for their descendants till the end of time.
A neat lesson in a nutshell that we can all come away with is that the main quality to look for in a spouse is KINDNESS. In a society so focused on external appearances it’s tough to come up with a formula that really works. But if someone really cares for you, and they will exhibit it either through their lives or their actions that they base their lives on living kindly, then you can be sure that they have the qualities for the ingredients that really make marriages work.
The Jewish word for LOVE is “AHAVA”, which is derived from the root “hav”, meaning, “to give” in Aramaic. To love someone means to give of yourself unconditionally, which is what a true marriage is all about.
Have a great Shabbat!
Let me know what you think!