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Jacob saw Rachel… Jacob kissed Rachel (29:10-11)
The text relates Jacob's long journey to Haran, where he would find shelter from Esau at the household of Laban, his relative. And the first person from that family that he met was not Laban, but his daughter, Rachel. He did not introduce himself formally. He did not file away his interest pending 'official enquiries'. He kissed her. Only afterwards, he presented his credentials as an extended family member. A rather demonstrative way of going about things, to say the least.
This stands in stark contrast to Isaac's getting to know Rebecca. Only after the extended formalities were completed, the narrative finishes with 'Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah. He took Rebecca, and she became a wife to him, and he loved her' (24:67). Love, as several commentators point out, only came at the very end. And this verse is frequently quoted by those wanting to discourage couples getting to know each other properly before they get married.
Even in the society of today, most people do settle down and get married - some more successfully than others. Why does the Torah record the intimate details of Isaac's, and Jacob's, early encounters with their spouses? And Jacob's spontaneous kiss to a young lady who was at that time a stranger is recorded, but without any value judgment from the text - it does not criticize his behavior…
In response, the Torah does relate those intimate details to teach a lesson to posterity. That lesson is that the Torah has two sides to it. On one side, it presents a framework of laws - in the form of the Ten Commandments, breaking down (following Saadia Gaon) into the 613 Mitzvot. On the other side, it presents its perspective on life within that framework, much of which is contained in the narrative sections. That side contains the eternal 'lessons for posterity'.
One of those lessons is that the Torah presents a framework for life, and not a formula for mere robots. Computers do that, not humans. It expects people within that framework to think, judge the situation according to its merits, and take steps in as proactive a manner that the circumstances allow.
Isaac's earlier life was by and large set up for him. Though the Rabbis deduce that the Akeidah (binding of Isaac) was a test of Isaac as well as Abraham, he did not have to spend his earlier years mapping out his path. It was all laid out for him. His parents made it their business to protect him from bad influences (exemplified by the story of Ishmael's expulsion), and his father took great pains to find a suitable life's partner for him.
That contrasts with Jacob's life which was a struggle from the very outset. It was quick thinking which made him, and not Esau, the blessed head and spiritual heir of the traditions of Abraham (the birthright and the blessing). He needed to cut thorough red tape to ensure that it would not be abused and obliterated by Esau. It was quick thinking that connected him with Rachel, so that she would have some slight connection before Laban might well 'poison' her against her by pointing out his destitution. And it was quick thinking that was to enable him to earn a living while Laban repeatedly changed the business arrangements to his entire advantage…
In my late teens, I asked a very 'Yeshivish' Rabbi who is now a world-ranking Torah personality whether the Halacha allowed telephoning a young (very Orthodox) lady he did not know well to invite her on a serious date, without the shidduch formalities. His looked at me in the eye, smiled, and said: 'I wouldn't condemn it! But', he added, 'I don't think most girls would agree to your proposal… she would have to be something of a rebel…' (He smiled further, saying that he thought that was truer of England than America…)
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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