Saturday, November 10, 2012

Finding the Right Mate

This week's Torah portion is Chayei Sarah (Gen. 23:1-25:16), meaning "the life of Sarah", but it begins with the account of her death.  Abraham goes to Hebron to bargain with Ephron ben Zohar to buy land to bury his wife.  Then, he moves on to the living and goes about the business of finding a wife for his son, Isaac.  Abraham sends Eliezer back to "his country", the place where Abraham's family dwells, and bids him find a wife for Isaac from among their women.

Eliezer does Abraham's bidding, but seemingly overwhelmed by the magnitude of his task, he asks God to send him a sign.  The sign he chooses is that he will go to the local well at evening, when the women draw water, and the woman who offers to draw water for him, and also for his camels, is the right wife for Isaac.  The commentators argue over whether Eliezer is practicing divination, which is forbidden by Jewish law, or if he has simply designed a test of character.  The commentator Malbim speaks for the latter view: "After selecting the most outwardly attractive of the damsels he required to find out more about her inner qualities...this would indicate that she was a hospitable, considerate and unassuming person".   That person was our matriach Rebecca.

Certainly, these characteristics would be important for any potential spouse, but especially so for Isaac, already traumatized by nearly being sacrificed by his father, and deeply grieved by the recent death of his mother.  Isaac, of all people, needed a Rebecca in his life, and of all the patriarchs and matriarchs, they seem the most deeply devoted to one another.  At the end of the story of their meeting we are told "And Isaac brought her unto his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebecca and she became his wife; and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death" (Gen. 24:6).

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