Parshat Chayei Sarah
Torah Reading: Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1 - 25:18)
Shabbat Candle Lighting: 5:42 PM
Shabbat ends: 6:41 PM

The Prototypical Marriage

The marriage between Yitzchak and Rivkah recounted in this week’s parsha is the first Jewish marriage mentioned in the Torah. It is seen as the prototype of all subsequent marriages, including the cosmic marriage between G‑d and the Jewish people that occurred at Sinai. 

Commentators raise a question about the legality of both marriages:

When Yitzchak married Rivkah, he did so by way of a proxy. Abraham dispatched his trusted servant Eliezer to serve as Yitzchak’s agent to betroth Rivkah to his son. According to the Midrash, when Eliezer gave Rivkah jewelry it was not just a gift but was in lieu of the wedding ring that we currently use to execute a legal marriage. Yitzchak was thus married to Rivkah without even showing up at his own wedding!

Jewish law allows for the possibility of executing a marriage by way of proxy. However, it forbids this manner of marriage except in dire circumstances. The main reason for this objection is that there is the concern that a man might find something unappealing and repugnant about his wife (or vice versa).

Based on this legal premise, a question has been raised: How could Abraham—whom our Sages state anticipated the commandments of the Torah and observed them—violate the law that forbade his son from marrying a woman without seeing her first? Why did he send his servant to execute the marriage by proxy?

A Similar Question

We can find the answer to this question by referring to a similar question about the giving of Torah, which, as mentioned above, represented the marriage of G‑d to His bride, the Jewish people.

Here too, commentators ask, how could G‑d have initiated this marriage by way of Moshe, who served as His proxy to give the Torah to - and thus “marry” - the Jewish people? 

To better understand the question, we must first observe that G‑d, who is all-seeing, certainly was well acquainted with the Jewish people before He gave them the Torah. The commentators’ question is premised on the idea that the methods G‑d used to bring about His marriage with the Jewish people should parallel the way we are to enter into a marriage with each other. G‑d shows us, by example, how we are to conduct ourselves in similar situations. Hence, if G‑d used a proxy to marry His people, it would suggest that there is nothing wrong with that approach. And, conversely, it may be argued, just as we do not tolerate marrying sight-unseen by way of a proxy, so too it is to be expected that G‑d’s marriage to us should not have occurred through a proxy.

The answer to this question sheds light on how Eliezer could have served as a proxy for Yitzchak’s marriage to Rivkah.

The Rationale

As stated, the rationale for the law that forbids marrying without first seeing the bride is the concern that the husband might find his wife repugnant and cause him to be repulsed by her. The mere possibility of this occurring renders marriage by proxy a fundamentally flawed method of marriage.

To explain: a marriage is not merely a contract between two parties. Besides all the legalities that a marriage involves—financial support, etc.—it is the act by which two half souls commit themselves to one another unconditionally, in ways that transcend logic and reason. Marriage is not a quid-pro-quo contractual relationship. One’s motive for marriage is not restricted to his or her appreciation for the other’s talents and virtues. In marriage one accepts the totality of the other, not just the specific qualities that the other brings to the relationship.

Nevertheless, a marriage cannot take place without courtship, at which time one is exposed to the other’s talents, virtues and qualities. One chooses a mate based on the things about the other that he or she finds appealing. More specifically, one looks for compatibility. However, one should view the effort of finding the person who both possesses these virtues and is compatible as just the removal of the hurdles that one must go over before finding his or her bashert; in other words, his or her other half.

In addition, as we are limited human beings, we would find a marriage hard to accept if our only connection with the other was a soul-connection while on all other levels a couple is incompatible. A marriage is about connecting to the other on all levels, from the most spiritual to the external and physical. To connect on the highest and deepest level, one must be able to connect on the lower and external levels as well. One is a stepping stone to the other.

If, from the outset, one’s marriage has the potential to deteriorate because the husband will eventually find his wife unappealing - that points to a fundamental flaw in the union. Their bond must transcend their respective superficial flaws. For that to happen, initially there must be a sense of compatibility.

A Marriage that Lasts Forever

When G‑d married us at Sinai, He embraced us unconditionally. His connection to us transcends the specific expressions of loyalty and devotion that we made to Him. Unlike humans in their relationships, no matter how far a Jew strays from G‑d, He will never truly despise us and find us contemptuous. This notion can be found in numerous verses in the Torah. One instance where this is enunciated is in the very section of the Torah where G‑d expresses His displeasure with our iniquitous behavior and threatens us with severe retribution for our errant ways. Even so, by the end of that section (Vayikra 26:44) G‑d continues: “But despite all this (the above-mentioned punishments), while they are in their enemies’ land, I will not despise them and become disgusted with them to annihilate them, breaking My covenant with them.” In other words, the covenant that G‑d made with us can never be severed. G‑d did not have to “see” us prior to the marriage because that preliminary step was not necessary for G‑d since He will never abandon us no matter what.

The Mountain of Unconditional Love

Our Sages state that G‑d lifted Mount Sinai over our heads and threatened to drop it on us if we refused to take the Torah. Chassidic thought explains that this was not coercion in the classical sense of the word. Rather it means that G‑d enveloped us with so much love that we cannot ever sever our relationship with Him, just as He promised never to sever His relationship with us. That hovering mountain of love defines our marriage with G‑d.

When a person enters into a relationship which is so fundamentally strong that nothing can tear it asunder there is no danger that one spouse will find the other repulsive.

A Marriage that was Made in Heaven for All to See

How does one know that a marriage will last and never lose its original ardor? When G‑d Himself arranges that marriage. While all marriages are made in heaven, we usually only can see that in retrospect. When, however, we can see G‑d’s hand in a marriage at the very outset, demonstrating that the bond between the couple is a sacred one blessed by G‑d Himself, we can then know with confidence that the relationship is an expression of divine connectivity.

Where do we find such a marriage? The marriage of Yitzchak to Rivkah. There, the hand of G‑d was clearly visible at every step of the way. As recounted in this week’s parsha, the fortuitous and miraculous way Eliezer found Rivkah prompted even her wicked brother and father to exclaim: “This thing has come from G‑d! We cannot refuse you…” In the Midrashic account of these events, many more miracles are cited in connection with Eliezer’s journey and discovery of Rivkah. There was no question but that G‑d orchestrated these events to make this prototypical marriage take place.  In light of G‑d’s blessings, it was evident that nothing could undermine this marriage.

The Final Stage of the Marriage

As mentioned, this ideal marriage was the forerunner of and paradigm for the marriage between G‑d and Israel at Mount Sinai.

The giving of the Torah is likened to a marriage because, like a marriage, the objective of Torah is to create a union: between G‑d and the Jewish people, the physical and the spiritual, the body and soul and the union of all of the world’s inhabitants to serve G‑d as one.

This marriage will not be complete until the coming of Moshiach and our final Redemption from exile. Marriage, according to Jewish law, is comprised of two stages: The first is Kiddushin, which is often translated as betrothal. The second stage, Nisu’in, is the ceremony that takes place under the chupah-the wedding canopy, after which the marriage may be consummated. As Rashi notes, in ancient times, there was a ten or twelve month period between the betrothal and the final stage of the marriage. During that period, the bride remained with her family and spent her time making all the preparations for the wedding.

The marriage between G‑d and Israel that occurred at Sinai, describes the Kiddushin stage of our deep relationship. The giving of the Torah at Sinai was akin to the giving of the ring at a wedding. That event connects us to our “Spouse” but does not represent the ultimate union. The final stage of the marriage between G‑d and the Jewish people, and all the ensuing forms of unity that our marriage will generate, will take place imminently, with the coming of Moshiach and the final Redemption.

As long as we are in exile, we might erroneously think that our marriage with G‑d might have become strained and compromised. With the imminent arrival of Redemption, this misconception will be corrected for all time. We will see how G‑d’s relationship with us transcends all considerations. As the Rebbe declared on many occasions: “No Jew will be left behind!”  It will become demonstrably clear that even during our long exile, G‑d’s love for us was and continues to be unconditional.

 Moshiach Matters

Our rabbis teach that thought serves as a catalyst, bringing about positive effects.
When people start thinking about the Redemption as the purpose of their lives — hopefully before they have time for extended contemplation — Moshiach will arrive.(From Dawn to Daylight, by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger)

For more info about Moshiach,