Rabbi’s Sermon: “Love and marriage — and impulsiveness”

by Rabbi Arnold Saltzman

This sermon appeared in Washington Jewish Week on Dec 2, 2016:  http://washingtonjewishweek.com/35005/love-and-marriage-and-impulsiveness

It is difficult for me to understand, yet my European-born father match-married several of his children from his first marriage, and was himself match-married at the age of 18 to a first cousin.

This is in contrast to choice through love, and today’s use of JDate and speed dating.  The marriage of Abraham and Sarah happened quickly; words are not wasted in telling us that Rebecca fell off her camel when she saw Isaac.

Later on, we see in Jacob the opposite of speed dating, while Esau seems to have acted too quickly in his choice of spouse.

In Toldot, we find the story of Isaac, the father of two nations, and of Rebecca’s twin sons who fight each other in the womb, and who remain competitive well into maturity.  Jacob and Esau are opposites.  Each one is a favorite of either Isaac or Rebecca.  But let’s focus on the ending of the sidra.

Rebecca overhears Esau’s plan to kill his brother because Jacob had tricked Isaac, their father, into giving him the blessing of the birthright.  In Genesis 27:42, Rebecca tells Jacob, “Your brother Esau is consoling himself (over the trick) by planning to kill you!  Flee at once to Haran, to my brother Laban.”

What follows in 27:46 is the reason she presented to Isaac: Rebecca is unhappy with the Hittite women who are Esau’s wives.  Not everyone is blessed with loving daughters-in-law (although I am).

Nahum Sarna and author Chaim Potok, in the Jewish Publications Society (JPS) Torah Commentary, suggest that this is a foreshadowing as a literary device in preparation for the ending of the parsha.

Esau’s parents, Isaac and Rebecca, are disgusted by Esau’s wives.  The Hittite women and the Canaanites practiced idol worship and were not monotheists, although this we know from history and not the text.

When Esau understands that his parents are not pleased, he then marries a woman who is an Ishmaelite in the hope that such a bride will make them happy, since Ishmael is the son of Abraham and Hagar.

In 28:1 Isaac blesses Jacob a second time, this time freely, and instructs him to take a wife from the daughters of Laban.

Looking closely at this, we learn that Esau, upon hearing that his father’s spirit is cut short by the Canaanite wives, demonstrates some sensitivity to approval. The Ramban (Nachmanides) indicates that Esau, upon hearing this, could have married one of Laban’s daughters, but chose not to.  Esau then takes a new wife, Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham), sister of Nebaioth.

Esau demonstrates that he is impulsive.  It is a warning to those who think that matters of love and family can be dealt with impulsively.

For a matter so significant that our tradition says that “God is occupied with making good matches,” it is good advice that family be included in the equation, since family will most likely remain a source of love and wisdom following marriage.

So we note that Rebecca protected Jacob by urging him to flee — and in addition she hurried him to find a wife in the home of Laban.