Finding Your Zivug (Mate)
Yitzchok & Rivka:
The Torah's View of Finding a Mate




The twenty-fourth chapter of Beraishis/Genesis is the Torah's recounting of how Yitzchok was matched with Rivka. By studying this "model," one can learn how to look for a marriage partner. Many of its points and lessens will serve to show singles how to seek a mate, and show matchmakers how to establish criteria for what constitutes - and really counts in - a match.

Avraham was 140 years old and had mature life experience and wisdom. Therefore, he would supervise the finding of Yitzchok's mate. Yitzchok did not seek a wife for himself, because he didn't know what was appropriate for him to seek. Today, people are not as prepared to marry by an intermediary's "say so." There is no one around on as high a level as Avraham or Eliezer to realistically rely on and one today is going to get a Yitzchok or Rivka. But we do see that the Torah recognizes the human limitations of subjectivity, which can diminish or eliminate the trustworthiness of one's own judgement. Yitzchok relied on his father Avraham and his father's trusted and learned servant Eliezer. The Torah is telling us that there is a screening process that employs the help of the competent and judicious shadchan, Eliezer, to overcome the limitations of personal subjectivity - a lessen that stands the test of time as valuable for everyone today. In order to combat one's subjectivity and limitations, the single should obtain the advice and guidance of knowledgeable, wise, mature and caring people with life experience - at every step from deciding before one's first date what really matters to deciding whether to marry a person.

Avraham tells Eliezer to take a wife for Yitzchok from his hometown and not from the women in Kena'an, where he was living. Avraham had to contend with idolatrous society around him. By bringing a girl from that society into his family, he would not only have had to contend with her alien influence in his house, he would have brought in her whole family and social circle. By not taking a girl from the area, he could insulate against idolatrous influence. The Torah's goal for Yitzchok's marriage is to carry on the monotheistic, holy and moral way of Avraham. Kli Yakar (commentary on the Torah) writes that a girl from Avraham's family and town would separate from the idolatrous ways of the local area (Kena'an) and separate from the idolatrous ways of her origins, so that she would be capable of attaching to and carrying on the ways of Avraham. It is because Avraham would train his descendants to go in the way of Torah and mitzvos that G-d loved him.

Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, in his brilliant commentary to the Torah, writes about the Torah verse which says, "Take a wife for my son, for Yitzchok." The Torah uses a double terminology: 1. "my son" and 2. "Yitzchok." "My son" refers to the aspect of Yitzchok who is to follow in Avrahoms's Torah ways and ideology. "Yitzchok" refers to the unique individual. The Torah is showing that, for a spouse to be suitable, (s)he must not only be religiously compatible and of fine character ("for my son"). The match must also be suitable and fitting for each one's individual personality ("for Yitzchok"). By specifying that the girl should be from Avraham's home town, he could be indicating that there would be more likelihood of closeness, in that the girl and Yitzchok have a somewhat similar background and family ties.

When Avraham tells Eliezer to return to Avraham's hometown, in Padan Aram, to seek someone from his own family, we learn from this that one of the issues to study, when considering someone as a shidduch, is their family: not only including the positive qualities that the prospective mate has, but also the family's negative traits that the individual has left. There were idolaters and crooks in Avraham's family. Eliezer was not only to discern good qualities that a girl would have. The marriage prospect will have abandoned the unlikable, unseemly traits in the family.

Avraham specifically told Eliezer NOT to take a girl for Yitzchok from one of the daughters of Kana'an.

This brings about an important question. Avraham was the antithesis of idolatry. In Avraham's home the people were idolaters. In Kana'an the people were idolaters. Kana'an's idolaters were not good enough. Padan Aram's idolaters were good enough? Why did Avraham require Eliezer to travel 500 miles through the steamy desert specifically for a Padan Aram idolater?

True, both peoples were idolaters, but the root of each one's idolatry was different. In Padan Aram the people were idolaters because they were faulty in "dayos (knowledge)." In Kana'an the people were idolaters because they were faulty in "midos (character traits)." (Avnay Nezer)

When someone has a fault in dayos, but has good midos, you can work with that person. Add good knowledge. The person with good midos will change for the better. When someone doesn't have midos (character), you can't work with the person. Dealing with someone who is without good midos is futile.

A marriage has to stand for expansion from self, departure from self, and the bringing out what is best in self for oneself and one's spouse, contributing to expansion and completion and elevation of each one's better self. Marriage is to bring out potential. Each mate should bring out potential in oneself and in one's mate.

A man and woman can work together when they value, pursue, exhibit and keep growing in good midos (character traits) p'nimiyus (inner) qualities and virtues. That which is base, external, superficial, shallow is NO basis for a lasting relationship (chitzonius, externals). Inner values and midos in a marriage relationship provide warmth, comfort, understanding, meaningful communication, fulfillment, trust, rapport, and long-run emotional connection.

A good well-chosen zivug answers: What does the deeper part of me need in order to come out? What does the deeper part of my spouse need in order to come out (what should a spouse need in order for me to be the other's spouse!)? What does the deeper part of me have to offer the deeper part of the other? What should the deeper part of my soulmate have to offer the deeper part of me? What potential in me and my spouse will bring to potential 1. myself, 2. my mate, 3. our "team," and 4. the presence of and our communion with the sh'cheena (divine presence among us) in the marriage?

The basis for choosing a marriage partner and mission is p'nimiyus - not externals, not hollow nor fleeting values, not what other people think (for, other people are not a relationship of "us"), not possessions. Rather, a mate favorably answers: can we work with each other; can we help each other grow; can we build a life together that is purposeful, peaceful, kind, respectful, faithful, communicative, resilient?

The people of Kana'an had no self-control and no midos. They did not predicate marriage upon inner qualities. These people were not fit to be the progenitors of the Jewish people. Today too, a shidduch is one who can subjugate him/herself to the exalted, the divine.

Avraham said that Yitzchok would not go to Padan Aram and Eliezer would be free from his oath if the girl would refuse to come back to the land of Israel, to Yitzchok. Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch points out that G-d never forces someone to go against their free will. If the girl would not want to, Eliezer could not force her to come. To send Yitzchok to Padan Aram would defeat the whole purpose. From this we learn that it is more important never to do wrong in the eyes of G-d, even if it is to try and force someone to do that which is right in the eyes of G-d. To do a right thing the wrong way remains wrong. We are to trust in G-d to provide the means to accomplish that which He wills, and let us be ever careful never to do that which is wrong, even in order to do something right. A sin for the purpose of a mitzva remains a sin. A stolen lulav remains mere thievery which is repulsive to Hashem. Today, this includes not dating more than one person at a time. There is a common misconception today that seeing more than one person simultaneously is OK or efficient. Even if you maintain that it could help you do the mitzva of getting married, it is probably several, sins:

* against the people you are dating simultaneously, and

* for your misappropriation of the time and money spent.

This includes many other things that need be studied or brought as shaalos to a rov; for example: partial or total lying, withholding information that is necessary for a proper consideration, making a false impression about yourself, cutting grey hairs to look younger, mixing in to unjustifiably make or block a shidduch, etc.

You don't marry a "finished product." We wouldn't need marriage if people were complete without it. Looking for someone complete is counterproductive. You don't marry someone who is incomplete to the point of destructive, immature, negligent or dysfunctional. I heard, in the name of a prominent Brooklyn Rabbi, that more important than finding a good spouse is BEING a good spouse.

Superficiality creates the danger of mate-choosing criteria of what is comfortable or selfish, at the expense of purpose. Spouses must feel similar. But comfort and similarity are not constructive when in the sense of copping-out of life-responsibility. They are constructive when they mean that two can work with each other, towards the end that the two can bring out the best in each other, and to help each other grow.

The Steipler warns that one can choose to reject one's basherte (pre-ordained soulmate). By being too choosy or being afraid of being made to face oneself, there is a temptation to let a legitimate candidate go. For the small gain in ease and comfort, one can lose life's most important asset - one's full self.

When he arrived at the well, Eliezer prayed. He thereby acknowledged that Hashem was fully in charge and he was tangibly demonstrating his faith in Hashem's providence and supervision of the world. Also, he was practicing kindness on behalf of Avrahom and Yitzchok.

Further consider that the Talmud (Bava Kama 92a) tells us, "All who sincerely beseech mercy [i.e. pray to G-d] on behalf of another Jew, and [the praying person] needs the same thing, [the praying person] is answered first." In our context of seeking one's soulmate, if you pray for other people who are looking for their mate, have trouble finding a mate, have problems conducting relationships, are old enough to marry but are not ready for a serious relationship, etc., it is an enormous mitzva for you to pray on their behalf, in a regularly scheduled and sincere manner. Your mercy, praying and concern for others will add merit on behalf of your own mate-search.

When Rivka came out to the well, the midrash teaches (Sefer Agados Yisroel), there were more events that took place than the written Torah records. All events center around Rivka's practice of enormous chesed (active lovingkindness) together with rachamim (mercy, compassion). This was just before she was matched to her soulmate.

Upon coming out to the well, she saw a little boy crying and she compassionately asked him what was wrong. He had a cut and a badly bleeding foot. She helped the boy, bandaging the cut foot and soothing the boy's fears. She encouraged him and told him sweetly that he was going to be just fine.

Before she could get back to the well, she noticed a worried and confused old lady. Rivka asked the old lady why she was so dismayed. The old lady explained that she was lost and forgot her way home. Rivka took her softly by the hand, assured the old lady that Rivka would get her safely home. Rivka walked her into the town and found the lady's home.

Rivka returned to the well at the outskirts of town and she, again, did not go back to the well for the water which she originally came out to get. A fatigued old man was sighing, standing in place on the edge of the desert. Rivka, with the same kindness, courtesy and patience that she exhibited all along, came over to the old man to compassionately inquire what his trouble was. He said that he needed to rest but there was nowhere to rest and he was too weary to go to the town to get to where he could find something to rest upon. Rivka looked around. Seeking here and there, she found and brought a chunk of wood bark on which the old man was able to sit.

She had just performed three noble acts which embodied chesed together with rachamim. She still had not yet gotten a chance to get her own family's water from the well...the purpose for which she came out.

G-d brought Eliezer from Israel to Padan Aram with "kefitzas haderech (miraculous rapidity - it took one day to make a trip that, through normal nature, without miraculous intervention, would take 16 days). G-d arranged the timing so that Eliezer would arrive just when Rivka first came out for water. He witnessed, and marvelled at, these three consecutive and extraordinary maasim tovim (good deeds) and said to himself, "What a kind, compassionate, merciful girl this is."

After these three superlative and sensitive kindnesses, Rivka noticed Eliezer and his just-arrived-from out-of-town caravan at the edge of the desert. Still not having obtained water for herself, she came over to Eliezer - who looked like a servant - and offered to give water to Eliezer and his entire entourage. Eliezer saw that she had just come out and that she had never yet obtained water for herself. She was carrying a water bucket that made it clear that she came out for her own water. Eliezer had ten camels in his caravan. It is important to remember that when a camel drinks, he fills up by drinking plenty. The camel doesn't only drink for present thirst. He puts a large amount of water into storage!

Eliezer asked water of Rivka only for himself. She offered water at first to Eliezer alone, saying, "Drink, my lord," showing that Rivka had tact and respect. After Eliezer was fully satisfied, she had offered to get water for his entire caravan. After Eliezer drank, she didn't throw out the rest of the bucket of water in a wasteful manner. She didn't run home after Eliezer drank. She used the water purposefully. She had the intelligence to give drink to the human being first and then to the camels, so that the water would be palatable (Rabbi Yosef Dov MiBrisk). In her offering water to Eliezer, there was no proof that she was good-hearted. She may have been afraid or respectful since he was bigger than she. When she offered of her own volition to get water for the entire caravan, this was proof that Rivka was genuinely good-hearted (Shir Mi'on).

"And when she finished giving him to drink, she said, 'I will draw water for your camels until they have finished to drink' (Genesis 24:19)." Rabbi Hirsch writes that she did not immediately disclose her intention to bring water for all of the camels. She did not want to be conceited nor to boast.

Further, by waiting until he finished drinking, she presented the chesed so that Eliezer would feel no inhibition about receiving it and so that he would have no opportunity to tell her not to bother.

Rivka's kindness and hospitality were signs that she was a match for the family of the kind and hospitable Avraham. She fulfilled the mishnaic imperative of "say little and do much (Pirkei Avos, chapter one)." This matches the way Avraham treated his guests: he asked them to stay and partake of a morsel of bread. After they agreed to stay for something small, Avraham fetched them a complete multi-course dinner.

She drew water, running and carrying heavy buckets, in a polite and friendly fashion, making trip after trip, zealously and willingly transporting dozens of gallons of water. A mitzva is the will of G-d and doing it with effort, with concern in the heart and with attention to detail is precious to G-d, and Rivka gave "her all" with dedication (Kedushas Levi). Appreciate too that she was a young girl. Nevertheless she moved swiftly. The zealous do mitzvos rapidly (Pesachim 4a).

Eliezer knew from the three deeds that she had done for others, and her magnanimous offer to serve his entire entourage with all the water they might have - all before she took a drop of the water that she came to obtain for herself - that this beautiful and virtuous neshama was the one to marry Yitzchok.

Eliezer gave to Rivka a golden earring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets of ten shekels weight. "Half" indicates the half shekel that the Jews gave for the census in the desert. Two indicates the two tablets of the law which would be binding on the Jewish people. "Ten" is a number of wholeness (e.g. the universe was created with ten statements, there are ten commandments). This indicates the essence of a shidduch: everyone is half, but not alone; representing completion and furnishing wholeness in a context of Torah and the mitzvos, working to complete each other, working at making two into one, living with goals, direction and ideals.

Yitzchok's "specialty" trait was gevura (self-control for the will of G-d). He was willing to lay back for the akaida (binding upon the alter) and permitted himself to be available for sacrifice, if that would have been G-d's will. In an interpersonal context, when taken to its conclusion, gevura could be a mida of severity, holding oneself back, keeping to oneself. Yitzchok needed the balance provided by a kind, compassionate girl. Avraham was chesed in the extreme, and Sara was gevura. The balance together made for a house that could be completely committed to mitzvos. Chesed or gevura alone would not be consistent with truth.

Similarly, by matching Yitzchok together with Rivka, with her warm and soft attributes, she would be balanced by his gevura, and he would be balanced by her chesed.

When Rivka and her family agree to her going with Eliezer to marry Yitzchok, the Torah says, "When the servant of Avraham heard their words, he bowed to the ground to G-d." The Torah titles Eliezer "the servant of Avraham," because he now finished the mission which he was committed to fulfilling as the servant of Avraham. Eliezer thankfully acknowledged G-d, from whom the mission's success had come. Becoming engaged, finding one's soulmate is a gift from G-d.

Once a shidduch/engagement has been established, the wedding should be scheduled for as soon thereafter as is possible. One of the Torah authorities from whom I learn, Rabbi Avraham Asher Zimmerman, said to me that a wedding should be scheduled for between six and eight weeks after the decision to marry. It is not healthy, he continued, for the couple to be in the non-married state any longer than necessary. He said to just allow time necessary for the practical needs of making a wedding. Treat engagement as meaning "we both agree that we should be married, and let's be married as close to immediately as possible." Make getting married very "real."

The Torah makes a point to say that Rivka said "yes" in OPPOSITION to pressure to say "no," to emphasize that the will to marry must actively and exclusively come from the parties who will marry, and the pressure by outsiders (i.e. other than the couple) is IRRELEVANT. If someone can offer mature advice, then the couple should be open to it. The Torah, keep in mind, depicts that the shidduch, from Yitzchok's point of view, was entirely handled by Avraham and Eliezer. This was to make clear that they knew how to handle mate-seeking more objectively, wisely and maturely than Yitzchok, who totally gave his search over to them.

When the choice of partner and inauguration of marriage are wholesome, then they key goal of marriage - healthy and spiritually strong children - can be reality. The first mitzva in the Torah and the first section of Evven Ha'Ezzer (the segment of the Shulchan Aruch [Code Of Jewish Law] relating to marriage) is: having children and multiplying.

Keep in mind that after Sara died, Avraham was a widower. When the story of Eliezer's journey took place, Avraham had been alone for three years. The Torah states that Yitzchok came back from Be'er LeChai Ro'ee. The Torah is not a geography book, so why does the Torah report where Yitzchok was coming from when Rivka was arriving?

The other place where the Torah mentions Be'er LeChai Ro'ee is in the story of Hagar. Hagar was the second wife of Avraham and the mother of Yishma'el, who was a bad influence on young Yitzchok. Avraham sent Hagar and her wild son away to Be'er LeChai Ro'ee, so that Yishma'el would not harm young Yitzchok.

Before, we said that when Eliezer finished praying, that is just when Rivka came out, teaching us that when the time is right and when both parties are ready and developed, then G-d brings the two of them together to make the shidduch.

Yitzchok was forty years old at this time. Before this time, there was something missing for which he was not ready to have his shidduch. We learn what was lacking from the fact that the Torah says that he was coming back from Be'er LeChai Ro'ee. This was the place where Hagar was.

The midrash (Beraishis Raba) teaches that he went there to propose to Hagar that she remarry his father, Avraham. Because Sara had died three years before this, Avraham was a lonely widower. Yitzchok felt his father's loneliness and made a journey through the desert to do for his father what he actually needed for himself. Yitzchok had a compassion for his father's loneliness. He was more concerned to seek a wife for his father than he was for himself. It is a tikun (spiritual repair) to do that which we want for ourselves, for another who needs the same thing. Similarly, if one prays for another person for something that one needs for himself, he is answered by Heaven first. If Yitzchok would have prayed for his father to get married, Yitzchok would have been answered first. But Yitzchok did something even more and better than pray. He went to the place where Hagar lived on behalf of his father. His tikun (self-repair), his preparedness for marriage came when he was ready to identify with his father's loneliness, pain, need for a companion. Because he went and sought his father's happiness, having practiced and developed the trait of chesed, that's what completed his readiness to be married.

Doing for another who needs something that you need is important because you do kindness to that person, bring merit for your receiving what you need and it makes you a higher person. You are not jealous or resentful. You are devoted to the will of G-d and being the type of person He wants you to be. You are happy at the good of others and at their having all they need, so much so that you cheerfully do as much as you can for others to make them happy and give them what they need, as they each individually need.

In Yitzchok's case, it is especially striking when we consider that Yitzchok

* was a younger man,

* had never been married and

* had not yet had any children.

Yitzchok's trip was an act of self-sacrifice, generosity and kindness. He was concerned for his father having happiness and companionship more than he was for himself.

The Torah is telling us that to be married, the man and wife MUST BE personalities characterized by unselfishness, profound feeling for another person's well-being and happiness, active and generous kindness, and self-abnegating humility. Both entered into marriage wanting to be benevolent to the other - wanting marriage to be a means of bringing good and happiness to the other.

Yitzchok started out as a master of gevura, a trait which brings one closer to G-d by oneself. He had come to mastering the trait of chesed, a trait which brings one closer to G-d through goodness to others. He wanted good for everyone, doing for someone else who needed something - even something that he himself needed. He did not hold back from giving. He did FIRST for the other person with compassion to fulfill the need as the other person needed. Therefore he was fully committed with his whole being, and to the point of commitment and resolve that was demonstrated through practical action. He was committed to the potential for self-expansion, and the source of expansion for others for his whole self, for another person's whole self. He wanted wholeness for everybody. He was committed to do for the other with wholeness for others as each needed.

Humility is fundamental to achieving the responsibility, giving, love, respect and peace which marriage is concerned with and centered around. Truly, it is mandatory for all attributes, character traits and behaviors for normal adult functioning and human relationships. The gemora (Avoda Zora 20b) says that humility is the greatest of all good attributes. The Orchos Tzadikim writes that humility is the foundation of all good traits. Humility is the trait which enables you to identify with another person and to feel at one with another person. To the extent that the positive attribute of humility is absent, its negative counterpart, arrogance, is present; and to the same extent, there is an impenetrable barrier between the self within you and any other "self" outside you. This is "life and death" in marriage, wherein two halves of a greater soul must unite to achieve oneness.

In the recounting of the match of Yitzchok and Rivka, the Torah makes clear that Rivka was a "baalas chesed (master of lovingkindness)." Then the Torah tells of Rivka's journey to her wedding.

"...and he [Yitzchok] lifted up his eyes and he saw and a caravan of camels was coming. And Rivka lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Yitzchok, she went down from the camel...and she took her veil and covered herself...and he [Yitzchok] took Rivka and she became his wife and he loved her..." [Genesis 24:63-67].

In this beautiful passage in the Torah, we see that humility is prerequisite to a loving marriage relationship.

"And when she saw Yitzchok, she went down from the camel." Rivka's coming down was more than her physical relocation from upon the animal's back to the ground. It is humility. She is acknowledging that, in order to be married, one must "come down;" must, in other words, abandon all self-centered arrogance and instead fully have humility.

Rivka's getting down from the camel as she neared Yitzchok teaches us that we can only approach marrying another person by "bringing oneself down" with the trait of humility. Marriage is antithetical to arrogance, haughtiness or self-centered ego. One cannot relate with another person in a relationship that lasts, nor serve the will of Hashem in a way that is trustworthy, without the trait of humility.

Yitzchok had humbled himself to his father's loneliness and lovingly brought a wife for Avraham. Rivka's "coming down" shows that her essence also was committed and dedicated to being humble and generous, to not feel threatened nor diminished by doing good for others, not needing to tear anyone else down, not needing to be above anyone. She could feel within herself wholeness and expansiveness, and she would feel no hesitation to coming down. This is anava (humility).

She "saw" Yitzchok in the light of the kindness, benevolence and humility that go into a loving marriage.

Then, the Torah goes on to add, that Rivka covered herself with her veil. This teaches the additional crucial trait mandatory in the Jewish woman: modesty. It is the deeper inner qualities that are the ones which bestow the most honor and appeal to one in the eye's of a spouse. This is especially so for the beautiful deeper qualities in a wife. We see that Rivka's beauty was in her modesty and her concern for other people. The Torah says nothing about her clothing, hair style, make-up, college degree or sense of humor. The

* basis for endurance in marriage and

* true beauty of a spouse that truly endears one's soulmate

are in the inner qualities. Her relationship with her husband was private, dignified, spiritual and exclusive.

She put down her veil and covered herself. Rivka's outer self was subordinate to the inner self. The outer self did not replace the inner self. This is modesty (tzniyuss). We see that Rivka had chesed, rachamim, anava and tzniyuss. This combination of midos made her

* the one fit to be mother of the Jewish people and

* the model of what is finest in a Jewish wife.

This is the woman who is a blessed person capable of marrying a blessed person. This is why Avraham could send Eliezer to get Rivka in Padan Aram for Yitzchok.

It was on the basis of all the foregoing that Yitzchok was able to bring her into his home as his wife. "And he [Yitzchok] took Rivka and she became his wife and he loved her (Genesis 24:67)." Upon marrying her on the foundation described in the Torah, he developed a loving relationship, AFTER MARRIAGE. It was then that they lived together lovingly based upon these axioms, character traits and behaviors. AFTER marriage the two people become loving and become beloved. Loving comes from giving and giving brings out the "Tzelem Elokim (Image of G-d, i.e. G-dly qualities)" and these qualities give us the capacity to give the part that is the male (e.g. work, learning, logic, supportiveness) and female (e.g. intuitive understanding, emotion, household abilities), so that they each develop and give of what they each are to make a completeness together, in marriage.