Parshat Chayei Sarah: A Shidduch Story
In this week’s parsha we read the very lengthy and detailed episode of finding a wife for Isaac. After almost fatally losing his son in last week’s Akeida where Avraham was told to offer his son as a sacrifice but was held back at the last moment, Avraham realized he better secure his future before he chances to lose him again. Keep in mind that, unlike many artistic renderings of the Akeida, Isaac was 37 years old at the time, so he was certainly ready for marriage.
Avraham sends his trusted servant, Eliezer back to his home town to look for an appropriate woman for Isaac. The description of the specifics of the mission Avraham makes Eliezer swear to, the amount of goodies Eliezer brought with him to entice a prospective family with a nice dowry, the prayer Eliezer prayed for assistance in his assignment which included some very precise signs that it would be the right lady, his chance meeting of Rivkah – a relative of Avraham and Isaac, his meeting with Rivkah’s family and his repeated telling of all the details of his mission for his master, the back and forth “negotiations” with Rivkah’s family until her acquiescence to travel with Eliezer to Avraham’s family, along with the picture the Torah paints of the first encounter between Isaac and Rivkah leading to their marriage – all of it takes the brunt of this week’s parsha through a full 67 verses. It is one of the most detailed and descriptive stories in the entire Torah.
So why would the Torah devote so much time and space to this event, telling us blow by blow each step until the chuppah? One reason might be that Isaac’s marriage is the continuation of the legacy of Avraham. It is the first step to the fulfillment of the many promises by God to Avraham of progeny and a future.
But I would suggest that there is another idea embedded here and that this might be one of the earliest examples where The Medium is the Message. The Medium is the Message is a phrase coined by the Canadian communication theorist, Marshall McLuhan who proposed that the communication medium itself is part of the messages it carries. The means by which the message is transmitted influences how the message is perceived. So for instance, we get a very different take on something if it is broadcasted to us via a newspaper versus television versus Twitter.
The fact that the Torah gives such a lengthy description of the shidduch between Isaac and Rivkah is part of the lesson in and of itself. Because the fact of the matter is that everyone has a story about how they met their significant other. Every person can recount the 67-verse version of how they met each other. Any couple can tell you the series of “coincidences”, events, right-time-in-the-right-place moments and outside assisting parties that led to meeting the person they chose to spend the rest of their life with. And so the excruciating attention to detail of this event mirrors the very nature of this and any shidduch.
The Talmud says that finding a suitable person to marry is more difficult than Kriat Yam Suf – The Splitting of the Sea. When God split the sea for the Jewish nation to escape Egypt, He had to reverse the natural order of things. Remember your biology definition of a liquid? It takes the shape of its container. So splitting the sea was a complete repeal of nature by dividing something that normally is one unit. So too it is when we speak of two people sharing a life together.
As Rabbi Efrem Goldberg once explained: “(Let’s face it) every person is naturally different, distinct and unique. Each of us has our own tastes, likes, thoughts, opinions, needs, desires, goals, dreams and aspirations. People are naturally apart. To get married, form a union with another, blend and integrate one’s desires, needs and wants with that of someone else, also requires transcending one’s nature and is no less miraculous than the splitting of the sea.”
One the one hand we all bemoan the high percentage of failed marriages. But the other way to view it is to marvel at the miraculous nature of solid marriages given this simple truth of the difficulty of two people coming together to share a life despite their differences. This is miraculous in its own right. If anything, two people’s inability to stay together is the norm and two people who can subject their self to compromise and work together is the miracle.
It is therefore wholly appropriate that every shidduch should have qualities of “coincidence” and assistance from God’s hand guiding it along. For not only is this guidance and help needed to bring a couple together at the outset, but it is crucial to keep the couple together as they learn to love and share with one another during the course of their union.
Every couple has a shidduch story worth every inch of parchment it takes to pen its 67 verses. And every marriage is a much longer story that uses up a lot more parchment in an endless number of prose and poetic verse.
But you say it’s time we moved in together
And raised a family of our own, you and me
Well that’s the way I’ve always heard it should be
You want to marry me