MAKING A MATCH – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon – Hayyey Sarah, Gen.23-25:18
This week brings us the story of Eliezer the matchmaker. Abraham’s major domo, Eliezer of Damascus, gets the problematic honor of travelling to his master’s birthplace to find a wife for Isaac. Aided by prayer and miracle, he arrives at a watering hole. And here comes a girl to draw water for the family’s evening meal. He asks her for a drink from her pitcher. “Drink, my lord,” she says, and even offers to draw water for his camels. All 10 of them. Eliezer is so impressed with this girl that he takes out a gold ring and two bracelets and puts them on her hands. All this before he even asks her who she is. Then when he learns she is in fact the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother he gives thanks to Abraham’s G-d.
So who is this girl? The Torah identifies her as Rivkah – Rebecca – daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah by Nahor the brother of Abraham, a “damsel very fair to look upon, whom no man had known.” In other words, a beautiful young virgin.
Rebecca finds the gifts pretty exciting and runs home to show her mother. She also has a brother named Lavan, a fellow with as much greed as he has chutzpah. He sees the jewelry and runs to the well.
Lavan shows up at the well and invites Eliezer to their home. “Come to us,” he urges. “I already cleaned the house and made room for the camels.” So Eliezer accepts the invitation. Once in their house, he asks them to send Rebecca back with him to marry Isaac. Answering ahead of his parents, Lavan asserts that this event came from the Almighty and they cannot refuse. So Eliezer gives him and his mother more gifts. A sizeable bride-price, in fact. Bethuel, the father, says nothing. For him this is a deal. A party follows, and a night’s lodging for Eliezer and his camels.
The next morning when Eliezer wants to take Rebecca and go, Lavan again speaks first. “How about leaving her with us for a year – 10 months anyway—and then she can go.” Our commentators point out that ancient custom called for a prospective bride to spend a year collecting jewelry to wear at her wedding. But Eliezer objects. “Don’t delay me. I must return to my master.”
What can Lavan do? Maybe he can sense his father looking at him, silently warning him not to blow the deal.
“We will call the girl in and ask her.” And they do.
Rebecca agrees to go. It is her decision. So her family, including her brother, must take leave of her with a blessing: “Our sister, may you become thousands of myriads (10,000s) [of descendants]!” In this scene, Rebecca sets a precedent for Jewish life to this day. Two precedents, in fact.
First is the principle of permission. “Call the girl in and ask her.” No Jewish woman is to be given in marriage without her permission. In times when women in other cultures were property to be bought and sold, Jewish women had rights. Talmudic law recognizes a father’s right to betroth his daughter who is under age 12 years and 6 months, the legal age for female maturity. Parenthetically, we may notice that our tradition acknowledges the fact that girls become adults before boys do. 12 and ½, — even just 12 is accepted — not 13!
But when she reaches that “maturity” she can refuse to continue in the marriage. Marital commitment is certainly a basic right.
Second precedent concerns the veil, and hope for a fruitful future. We read here that when Rebecca first sees Isaac, she jumps down off the camel and asks Eliezer who that man is. Learning that it is her husband to be, she covers herself with a veil. Ever since then, a Jewish bride wears a veil. Today when she dons the veil before the wedding, it is done in a little ceremony called badek’n, and we bless her with the very words Rebecca’s family spoke: Akhoseynu aht ha-yee l’alfey r’vovoh – “Our sister, may you become thousands of myriads!”
Thousands? Myriads? How about millions? Well, Rebecca did, didn’t she? Aren’t we all Rebecca’s children?