In viewing Avraham Avinu’s directive to Eliezer1 to go to our forefather’s birthplace2 to find a wife for Yitzchak, we may wonder what was the overriding objective: to avoid a marriage between his son and a woman of Canaan or to find a bride for his son from the people of his homeland and, perhaps, his family?3 There are indications both ways. Of greater difficulty, though, is the very basis for either petition. It would be obvious that Avraham would want Yitzchak to marry a woman from a good family and, of course, righteous in her own right. Were there, though, no such righteous families in Canaan?
We, in fact, know that there were.4 And were there actually so many more virtuous families in the land from which Avraham left that it was specifically necessary to send Eliezer there? That possibility actually seems somewhat strange given God’s very decree that Avraham should leave that land.5
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If Avraham’s consideration was to ensure a better moral pool from which to choose a spouse for Yitzchak, his extended family also did not really meet the standard.6 Rivka’s righteousness was really an exception; as Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Biblical Images, Rivka points out: she was the white sheep of the family.
If the issue for Avraham was to find the best pool from which to find the proper individual to marry his son, the challenge is that a directive to stay away from one group, i.e. the women from Canaan, and to specifically look at another group, i.e. women from the homeland, would seem not to be very effective. The fact is that, in the search for a spouse, a person is really looking for a specific individual – who may show up anywhere, as seemingly evidenced by Rivka, who was a spark of light within her reprobate family.
But one does have to start somewhere and this usually begins with establishing the parameters of a pool of individuals from which to search. The further challenge is that Avraham’s parameters did not seem to make total sense. The fact is, though, that it did seem to work.
It could be that Avraham’s concerns were more cultural and/or genetic.7 His interest in not wanting a wife for Yitzchak to be a Canaanite but rather to come from his homeland may have been for a different reason than to ensure a greater chance of virtue, for he saw goodness, and lack thereof, in both places. It may have been that there was some attribute — that he saw existed in his homeland but was lacking amongst the people of Canaan — which he felt was necessary to exist in a mother of the Jewish People. If this was so, the further question would obviously be: what was this necessary attribute that Avraham felt was lacking in Canaan but existed in his homeland? Why, too, did Avraham set the parameters for Eliezer as he did?
Is there also the possibility that Avraham already knew that Rivka was destined to be Yitzchak’s wife and that he was really just directing Eliezer, with all this language, to go find her, specifically, her? Rabbi Uziel Milevsky, Ner Uziel, Chayei Sarah, A Wife for Yitzchak asks the question: why did Avraham wait until Yitzchak was forty before initiating this search for a wife for Yitzchak? He answers that Avraham knew, beforehand, through prophecy, that Yitzchak’s soulmate was not yet born so he waited until she was. Would this not imply that Avraham had some inkling as to who the wife of Yitzchak was? Vilna Gaon, Even Shelaima 5:1 further states that when there were prophets in Israel, a prophet would advise each Jew as to what was best for him/her given their specific individuality. I have seen this interpreted to include that a prophet would also direct a person in regard to whom to marry.
In that Avraham was a prophet, would it not be conceivable that he already knew about Rivka? Why, though, not then just instruct Eliezer directly to go to his family in Charan and arrange for the betrothal of Rivka? It may be, of course, that even though Avraham was a prophet, God chose not to share this information regarding Rivka with him and, as such, he had to come up with some general parameters to guide the search. Why would God choose not to share this prophetic knowledge with Avraham?8
I have found individuals within the Torah community to have different attitudes towards dating. There are those who hate the whole experience and would have gladly skipped it if it was possible. They simply would have wished to have met the individual whom they would marry right away. There are others, though, who found value in the experience, believing that it added to their development as a person and made them better spouses when they eventually did marry. The challenge is in the process that leads to the best marital choice. The goal is to find the one specific person with whom to connect in a most individual, personal and intimate manner.
To do so, though, we have to search through a broad, generic group. The issue is the value of this. To some, there is little value in this process. Like Adam and Chava, they wish that God would just present them with their soulmate without a process of dating. In that He does not do this in our present time, they persevere as best they can. Others, though, find value in the process for they discover new insights, including insights about themselves, as they attempt to find their soulmate. This value may be in the process itself.
This may precisely be what we are to learn from the Torah’s description of how our forefathers – specifically, Yitzchak and Yaakov – found their wives. As the process was different for each, it is different for every individual. One does not know where one will find his/her soulmate. With all the weaknesses in the process, though, we must progress from the generic of a group to the specifics of the individual. The challenge is to do so in a manner which recognizes and involves individuality completely – and to learn from this.
1 See Bereishit 24:2-4, 7.
2 There is actually somewhat of a disagreement as to exactly where Avraham was directing Eliezer to go. See Rashi, Bereishit 24:7 and Ramban, Bereishit 24:7.
3 It should be noted that, while Yitzchak’s directive to Yaakov in Bereishit 28:2 is much more explicit in that Yaakov should take as a wife a family-member, i.e. a daughter of his uncle Lavan, Avraham’s charge to Eliezer is much broader, to choose a wife from the homeland. In the end, of course, Eliezer does choose a family member, namely Rivka.
4 Malchitzedek, from Bereishit 14:18, and Aner, Eshkol and Mamrei, from Bereishit 14:24, immediately come to mind.
5 I am, of course, referring to the command Lech Lecha [Go forth] in Bereishit 12:1. This may raise a further question of whether God’s directive in this matter was specifically to bring Avraham to Canaan (to become the Land of Israel) or whether it was to remove Avraham from the land in which he was. There are many issues inherent in this question, however, an analysis is beyond the scope of this Insight.
6 Further on this topic, see A Return Home, Insight 5767-07, available on line at http://www.nishma.org/articles/insight/insight5767-07.htm.
7 See, also, Ramban, Bereishit 24:7 which raises what would seem to be a hereditary concern connected with righteousness. That raises further issues which, again, are beyond the parameters of this Insight.
8 It is of interest to note that when Yitzchak tells Yaakov to find a wife from the daughters of Lavan, it may be that he did have some prophetic knowledge as to whom Yaakov should marry, at least to some extent. It may then also be that Yitzchak’s lack of, even, prophetic clarity as to whom exactly of the daughters was Yaakov’s soulmate, Rachel or Leah, may have been just a reflection of this continuous question within the realm of the subsequent Torah commentaries.