And Isaac . . . took Rebecca, and she became his wife, and he loved her (Genesis 24:67)

A Modern Courtship

Had Isaac and Rebecca been ordinary folk living in the modern age their courtship might have looked something like this: Isaac would notice Rebecca at the well and take in her good looks. From the corner of his eye he would fix her with a surreptitious gaze, which she would briefly acknowledge, then coyly turn away.

At that point, I suppose, Isaac would have sauntered over to Rebecca and invited her to a cup of coffee. After an initial blush, she would shrug him off. No one likes to appear overly eager these days, lest the feelings are not reciprocated. He would insist and she, secretly happy, would appear to reluctantly relent.

They would spend their first meeting making an impression. Isaac would appear gallant, and hope to make her laugh, while Rebecca would strike an interested yet noncommittal pose. Each would wonder what the other thought, but neither would dare to ask.

The answer would come several days later in the form of a second invitation. Once again the invitation would appear casual, but would in fact be the product of much planning and agony. One date would lead to another. They would go in circles, each wondering what the other was thinking, but too scared to probe. Each focused on the other’s feelings, but too hesitant to disclose their own.

People would ask Rebecca if she had a boyfriend, and she would shyly smile and say, “Yes.” “Are you going to marry him?” “I don’t know.” “Do you want to?” “Well, of course!” “So why don’t you?” “Well, we don’t speak of such things!”

People would ask Isaac when he was going to propose, and he would say, “I’m not sure Rebecca is ready.” “Have you asked?” “What, you expect me to ask?” And so it would go round and round for months, till one of them plucked up the courage and finally popped the question.

A Shidduch

Fortunately for them, it didn’t work out that way for Isaac and Rebecca. They were spared this agony when their parents treated them to a shidduch. That’s right, an arranged marriage. Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, was a superb matchmaker. Dispatched by Abraham to find the perfect bride, he returned with Rebecca in tow. She and Isaac never hesitated, and were married the very next day.

Did they love each other on their wedding day? They barely even knew each other. Let’s take another look at the biblical verse quoted at the beginning of this essay: “And Isaac . . . took Rebecca, and she became his wife, and he loved her.” First she bacame his wife, and then he loved her. It was only after their wedding that they discovered their admiration for each other, and finally, their love.

Dispassionate? Unromantic? Maybe. But let’s take a closer look at the shidduch approach to finding a mate.

The matchmaker, or shadchan, begins by finding out all that she or he can about the men and women being matched up—their interests, characters, personalities and needs. Carefully matching up the parties, the matchmaker ensures that neither gentleman nor lady meet with those with whom they share little in common.

When the young couple go out on a date, they treat their encounter with sensitivity and pragmatism. They don’t circle around each other; they launch into frank discussion. They are there to examine what they have in common, if there is chemistry between them, and if they find each other favorable.

They are immediately comfortable with subjects that are often left untouched for months. Questions such as “what do you want out of life” and “what kind of family do you envision” are comfortably broached. Families, personalities, hopes and aspirations are all open to discussion. They each try to paint a picture of the life they hope to lead.

If their pictures are compatible and they enjoy a degree of chemistry, then they have discovered a foundation upon which their marriage can be built. If they are incompatible, or if that basic attraction just isn’t there, they simply discontinue the relationship and move on with dignity and amity.

I know what you're thinking. “Rabbi, it all sounds so neat and businesslike. But where is the romance? How can one propose to someone they’ve known for only one week? They know so little about each other, and cannot possibly be in love!”

A Gateway

In the shidduch approach, marriage is seen as a gateway. A gateway through which one enters into enchantment, romance and love. True love is not created in a day. It takes decades to develop. In our world of instant gratification this is difficult to appreciate, but it is nonetheless true. Admiration and infatuation can be created in a day. Love takes time.

True love is formed by living a mutual life for many years. True love is created when you share so much in common that you cannot imagine life without each other.

In the shidduch approach, the prospective husband and wife are not focused on their wedding day, but on the decades to come. They understand that true love takes years to develop. On their wedding day they are content to share a foundation of mutual admiration, commitment and respect. A foundation on which they will build their marriage and develop their love.

If the fundamentals are sound, and a commitment to long-term marriage is in place, the details can be resolved and the obstacles overcome. True love will be free to blossom.

Rooted in respect and admiration, nurtured by devotion and commitment and laced with happiness and love, such a marriage is a tribute to G‑d. Such was the marriage of the Patriarch Isaac and the Matriarch Rebecca.