The decision has the power to turn strangeness into intimacy, family. A deep discussion on the meaning of marriage.
The shidduch (coupling, match) of a woman to a man is suspended between two elements: (1) the coincidence of their encounter (2) the dimension of eternity in this match, an awareness of “‘Forty days before the infant’s creation, a bas kol (heavenly voice) cries out: ‘The daughter of ploni (e.g. John Doe) to ploni!'” (Sotah 2a).
The problem: how to hold these two contradictory truths together?
On the one hand: an incidental pair amid a potentially infinite set of matches, the non-absolute nature of the shidduch. On the other hand: the mindset and faith that ‘A woman to a man – this is from God’, literally, and forty days before the infant’s birth the bas kol cries out its soul mate.
The sources describe the tension between the deterministic understanding of coupling (per Laban) and the Jewish perspective, which sees the shidduch as an act of free will.
Laban gives his sister Rivkah away as though a demon had forced his hand, unwillingly:
“And Laban and Betuel answered and said: ‘This is from God, we cannot speak ill or good of you. Here is Rivkah before you- take [her] and go, and she will be a wife to the son of your master, as God has spoken.” (Genesis 44:50-51).
A similar situation is described when Laban gives Rachel over to Jacob:
“Laban said, ‘Better that I give her to you than that I should give her to an outsider. Stay with me.’…When morning came, there was Leah! So, he said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? I was in your service for Rachel! Why did you deceive me?’ Laban said, ‘It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the older.’(Genesis 29:19)
Laban’s decisions are the results of a whisper and a dream:
“But Laban said to him, ‘If you will indulge me, I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me on your account.’” (Genesis 30:27)
“I have it in my power to do you harm; but the God of your father said to me last night, ‘Beware of attempting anything with Jacob, good or bad.’” (Genesis 31:29)
Laban does not love simple humanity. Guessing, divination – these are close to his heart and beliefs. He knows how to separate religion from life. The happenings of human sickness, love for a woman – these do not belong in the divine realm.
By contrast, the match of Rivkah and Yitzchak is described as a human, real, natural happening: its beginning is incidental, its continuation full of the doubts and wonders that accompany a fateful human act.
The final verse that closes the circle of Rivkah and Yitzchak’s relationship further strengthens the human dimension of this event by describing the deep attachment between family and love:
“Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebekah as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.” (Genesis 24:67)
In the first stage Yitzchak brought her to his house, then she became his wife – and only then did love arise. And in the final stage – the family is restored and complete, with Rivkah filling the void left by Sarah’s passing.
Marital love is not the reason for marriage, but its result. Mussar books teach us that actual love is the outcome of giving. One does not give because he loves; one loves because he gives.
The contrast between Eliezer and Laban is especially prominent in the verses describing the decision-making process in Laban’s home (Genesis 44:50-51, see above). The phrase “this is it” contains a negation of the possibility of human interference – “We cannot speak ill…” Eliezer, on the other hand, is engaged in very human efforts that are cut off from any apparent divine interference, and he must therefore resort to pleading and persuasion.
It is only in retrospect that Rivkah is understood as an ultimate continuation of Sarah.
Also, Jacob’s love for his wives is all human, described in a way that is in direct opposition with Laban’s ideology.
…A certain [non-Jewish] matron once asked Rabbi Yosi bar Chalafta, “In how many days did the Holy One, Blessed Be He, created His world?”
“In six days,” he answered.
“And what has He been doing since then?”
“The Holy One, Blessed Be He, sits and makes matches,” he answered, “assigning the daughter of this man to that man, the wife of this man to that man, the possessions of this man to that man.”
“If that is difficult,” she scoffed, “I, too, can do the same. I have so many manservants and maidservants; in no time I can match them up.”
Said he to her: “If it is easy in your eyes, it is as difficult before the Holy One, Blessed Be He, as the dividing of the Red Sea.”
Rabbi Yosi bar Chalafta went.
She went and took a thousand manservants and a thousand maidservants and lined them up opposite each other. She then said, “This one will marry that one and this one will marry that one,” and married them all that night. The next day, those who were thus united came to her; this one’s head was injured, that one’s eye was out of its socket, another one’s leg was broken. She asked them, “What’s the matter?” This woman said, “I do not want this man,” while this man protested, “I do not want that woman.”
Straightaway, she summoned Rabbi Yosi bar Chalafta and admitted to him: “There is no god like your God: it is true, your Torah is indeed beautiful and praiseworthy, and you spoke the truth!”
This midrash comes to teach us that couples and families are a divine miracle.
Since the Earth was created and became ‘natural,’ humans believe in their own powers and those of rationality and put their trust in them. Yet the heart opens more and more to spiritual dimensions.
The value that remains a principle in our human society today, that every man has a specific woman for him – has provoked both protest and interest.
Moreover: the pairing of man and woman is a Jewish idea.
The matron’s failure in finding a match for her servants is not only a sign of the miraculous nature of such an activity, but also a testament to the truth of the Jewish tradition. The matron’s admission of “There is no godod like Your God…” is not only an acknowledgement of the value of family, but also of the God of Israel and the Torah.
Family is the foundation of Israelite faith. The Shekhina rests only upon Israelite families.
Rabbi Yosi bar Chalafta reveals the secret of free will: it is possible to escape arbitrariness through free choice. Partnership and family can be free choices.
It is impossible to force desire. Freedom is human essence, and in its godly essence is revealed.
The Ramba”m identified human freedom with the essence of godliness. The Ra”m already taught [above] that freedom of desire – ‘if he wished, him and her’ – is the fundamental human basis of a couple. The willed, desired decision reveals the place of godly absolutism in the depths, in the ‘oneness’ of the soul.
Avoiding arbitrariness – this is possible in deciding on a specific woman. The decision has the power to turn strangeness into intimacy, family. Through the decision, man leaves behind second doubts and establishes a covenant, an intimacy with his mate.
There are many who have been married to their spouses for years without ever deciding to do so truly.
The source of tears is the internal rift that is not bridged, based on the absence of a “Yes” from the deepest place in one’s heart.
The Multiplied Identity of Marriage- The Teaching of the Beit Jacob from Izbica
According to Beit Jacob, every marriage has two levels: revealed and hidden.
One level is the expression of choice. The woman marks life with the light of desire, longing and images. This is called ‘going with the partner,’ a marriage of ‘a revealed world,’ the partnership of Jacob and Rachel. The other level is the true story of marriage, revealed only in retrospect. This perspective is a mother’s, called ‘the match came to him’ – the marriage of Leah and Jacob, a hidden world. According to the Ar”izal, Leah is connected to the mother, to Eve – mother of all life.
The Admu”r teaches that in general, one does not split the truth of his existence into two: he wants to live life according to known desires, with everything ‘in control.’ Thus, he resists the ‘motherly’ essence and perspective on his existence. The mother represents authentic preparations, warning against deviations whose source lies in impulse and seduction.
Married life is a jumble of seduction, risk and desire – characteristic of this immature and early stage of shared life – and the level of marital maturity that grows and gains substance from mis-match, from the failures and tensions of married life.
In Imago therapy workshops (based on Dr. Hendrix’s theory) couples facing difficulties are invited to see these troubles as an invitation to bring one another ‘to light.’ Someone said that true partnership happens when one reveals that his partner is not the person he thought she was…
The love and the Shekhina that dwell in the house allow such opposites to coexist and be held together.