Marriage is an issue in society today. In Jewish teaching, marriage is central. We see this clearly in the story of how a wife was found for our ancestor Isaac, which takes up page after page in the book of Genesis! Further, if you look at the details, much of it is repeated three times.

The emphasis given to this account of what can be considered the first Jewish marriage helps us understand the emphasis given to marriage in Jewish thought. Let us consider a few points from the Parshah which are particularly pertinent.

When Abraham called his servant Eliezer and told him to go and look for a wife for his son, his first requirement was: she has to come from the right family. "Family" in this sense could be translated to mean: she must be Jewish.

Abraham was a descendant of Shem, the exceptional son of Noah. Shem had shown outstanding sensitivity and modesty in an incident involving his father like drunk and naked, and had consequently received a special blessing.1 By contrast, Canaan, Noah's grandson, had shown coarseness and crudity.

Abraham lived among the descendants of Canaan, but he wanted to make sure that the wife of his son would be from his own family, that of Shem. For this reason he sent Eliezer to the East, to locate his own family. "Do not take a wife for my son from the Canaanite girls... but go to my birthplace...2". At various times in our history, and today more than ever before, the question "is she (or he) Jewish?" is the first point of issue. Marriage is an expression of deep personal identity - and so is the fact of being Jewish.

Then Eliezer was left to his own initiative in choosing a match for Isaac. What did he do first? Pray. One cannot hope to succeed in anything without Divine help. When it comes to marriage, whether one's own marriage, or that of one's children, this is particularly necessary!

Eliezer did not look for wealth, but he did look for the personal qualities of generosity and kindness. The girl who would spontaneously offer to give water to ten thirsty camels which had just trekked through the desert, she would be the one. One sees here an image of the ideal Jewish wife and mother: kind, hospitable, energetic. Through the ages this dimension of feminine graciousness has been central to Jewish life.

Eliezer gave Rebecca presents: a gold ring weighing half a shekel, and two bracelets each weighing ten gold shekels. The Sages tell us these correspond respectively to the half-shekel donations later given by the Jewish people, and the two Tablets of the Law, with the Ten Commandments.3 These suggest the themes of giving charity, and observance of Jewish law.

On the Tablets of the Law the words are engraved, they are part of the very essence of the stone. In the same way, Eliezer's gift suggests that Jewish teaching should be part of the very fabric of one's home and one's marriage.4 This is the best recipe for a wholesome and permanent relationship.

Marriage is a spiritual bond. The Sages suggest even from before birth husband and wife are two halves of the same soul. Through marriage, each joins with their literal "other half" and thereby discovers their own true identity. The Kabbalists tell us that father, mother, son and daughter comprise the four letters of the Divine Name. The wholesome family is the expression of G‑dliness in this world, dwelling in the Sanctuary of the Jewish home.