Dawning of the Age of Rivkah
When dealing in the world of shidduchim, one must dwell on every word and gesture. Sometimes, the smallest negative comment, even a non-verbal facial expression, no matter how innocently dropped, can destroy a shidduch.
Two young ladies were sitting and talking on a crowded Jerusalem bus. One said to the other, “Did you hear that our friend Yocheved is dating Motty Levy?” “Really?” said the other woman. “Yocheved is dating Motty? I never would have thought! Motty, after all, is so modern; I’m surprised Yocheved would go for him.”
An older woman sitting right behind them said, “I’m so glad to hear this information, girls. You see, I’m Yocheved’s mother.” Both young women’s faces turned red with embarrassment. “Or,” the older woman added, “I could have been Yocheved’s mother. Be careful how you talk about people in the future.”
The delicacy of a shidduch is not a new phenomenon. Let’s examine a chapter from the life of Eliezer, Avraham’s servant, who was in charge of making the shidduch between Rivkah and Yitzchak.
Eliezer’s approach to shidduchim
After he finished relaying the entire interchange between himself and Rivkah at the well, Eliezer beseeched Rivkah’s family to perform “חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת” – “kindness and truth” by allowing her to accompany him back to Eretz Israel to become Yitzchak’s wife. Lavan and Betuel, Rivkah’s brother and father, responded with one of the most pious sounding responses in the entire Torah (24:50): “מֵיְקֹוָק יָצָא הַדָּבָר לֹא נוּכַל דַּבֵּר אֵלֶיךָ רַע אוֹ־טוֹב:” – “These events came from Hashem; we can therefore say neither bad nor good.” Take Rivkah with you, and let her be a wife for Yitzchak.
The family and Eliezer sat down for a festive dinner, and they all went to bed. The next morning, Eliezer announced, “It’s time for me to go with Rivkah back to my master!” This time, Rivkah’s family had changed their tune (24:55). “Let her stay here for a few months” to prepare for the wedding, they suggested, and then she can catch up with you.
What happened? Why, the night before, did the men agree that Eliezer could take Rivkah with him, and now, the next morning, the family was delaying the wedding? One answer might be that Rivkah’s mother was not initially consulted.
In the first verse, only the men of the family consented for the young maiden to go away with a stranger. Rivkah’s mother, who is mentioned as one of those who requested that Rivkah wait a few months, had a more cautious and protective attitude, and perhaps didn’t trust these men whom they had just met. This is the difference between mothers and fathers, and thank G-d for our mothers whose radar antennae are usually up to suspect the worst.
Lavan’s change of heart
Rabbi Moshe Alshikh gives a different answer. He notes that once the men promised Rivkah to Eliezer, the Torah narrative states that Eliezer presented Rivkah and her family with gifts (24:53).
וַיּוֹצֵא הָעֶבֶד כְּלֵי־כֶסֶף וּכְלֵי זָהָב וּבְגָדִים וַיִּתֵּן לְרִבְקָה וּמִגְדָּנֹת נָתַן לְאָחִיהָ וּלְאִמָּהּ
The servant produced utensils of silver and gold and clothing, and gave them to Rivkah. He gave sweets to her brother and mother.
Clearly, Eliezer was a generous man and wanted to display the comfortable life that Rivkah would enjoy upon returning with him to Eretz Israel. But Lavan and his mother noticed that they didn’t receive any gold and silver; only Rivkah got these expensive gifts. All they received were sweet fruits and candy. Now, sweets are fine, and I’m sure they were probably the most expensive sweets of the time, like Godiva chocolates.
But really, can you compare candy to gold? Originally, Rivkah’s family thought that by giving up their sister, they’d strike gold and would be showered with lavish gifts in her exchange. But once they saw that only Rivkah would be rewarded and all they stood to receive was candy, their entire demeanor changed.
“Let’s ask the girl,” they said, thinking that Rivkah wouldn’t want to travel with this strange man. It was only after Rivkah said emphatically (24:58), “I’m going,” that they had no choice but to surrender her to Eliezer.
A person’s actions, not their words
In addition to demonstrating the fragile nature of a shidduch, and how egos and personal interests can sometimes get in the way of two people getting married, this whole exchange provides us with another very strong message: Just because a person says “Baruch Hashem,”
“It’s all from Hashem,” and uses all the right religious lingo, one needs to be careful that the person isn’t displaying false piety in order to attain personal gain. Look at a person’s actions, not their words, to determine someone’s piety.
The reason why Lavan and Besuel are not held up as paragons of righteousness, of people who clearly acknowledged that Hashem runs the world, is because of how quick they were to change their minds once they saw that there wasn’t much in it for them. Piety for the sake of gold, no matter how frum it sounds, is not piety at all.
The world and its Jews
We leave you with a final thought about this story. Rabbi Shmuel Aryeh Leib Zak of Biala, who lived in the early 20th century, looked at this entire passage metaphorically. There will come a time in Jewish history, hopefully some time soon, when all the signs of the Redemption will be upon us. Even the nations of the world will acknowledge that the Messianic Age has arrived and that it is time for the Jewish people to return to Israel. They will say, “It is from G-d! We cannot say anything bad or good to stop you. Go! Return to Israel!”
But shortly thereafter, the nations will change their tune. They will realize that all their wealth and wellbeing is tied up in the Jewish people. Who will be our bankers, our scientists, and our doctors? Who will be our jurists and our accountants?
Realizing that they can’t afford to give up their Jews, they will say to the Jewish people, “What’s your rush? The Messiah will still be there in a few months. Get all your affairs taken care of before making Aliyah. You have businesses that need to wind down. You have houses and other assets that you need to liquidate. Take your time; you can always leave tomorrow.”
The voice of the Jewish neshama
But Hashem will send his messengers who will tell us, “Let us go, we can’t afford to wait any longer. The Redemption is here, and Hashem has provided us with all we need as long as we go.” Only when “the maiden” herself, who represents the conscientious voice of the Jewish neshama, cries out and says, “I’m going!” will the Jewish people be able to break free of the Diaspora’s gravitational pull and finally make Aliyah.
The name Rivkah, when conjugated from its shoresh (root) to a verb, literally means the act of fattening young livestock to make them healthier and more valuable. An “עגל מרבק” – “barn calf” is a calf that is very healthy and robust. In the haftarah for Shabbat HaGadol we read that in the Messianic Age, the Jews will indulge in wellbeing (Malachi 3:20) “כְּעֶגְלֵי מַרְבֵּק”, like fatted calves. In the age of “Rivkah,” the time to leave the diaspora will be up to us, since despite all the antisemitism and jealousy against the Jews, they will not willingly give us up. It will be up to us to say, “I will go. Now!”
So many have already made that blessed decision to go. May those still remaining in the Diaspora hear the call of Hashem’s messenger, beckoning us to come back home in the loving embrace of our beloved Master. May we see this Redemption, bb”a.