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The Right Wife

Judaism is unique. The truthfulness of this claim is established by more than just reference to its intricate legal system of 613 mitzvot. Judaism is unique in its very inception and earliest development.   Other major religions are established only by males: Christianity by Jesus; Islam, Mohammed, Buddhism, and Hinduism is a compilation of many men’s beliefs over its 4000-year history.  Judaism, however,  owes its origin equally to its Patriarchs and Matriarchs. While other religions were initiated solely by men, Judaism’s founders were the dynamic husband and wife team of Avraham and Sarah.

Sarah was as crucial to the formation of the Jewish people as was Avraham. The Torah openly records that she taught many people the true ideas of God. She did not abandon them when Avraham was told to being his journey to Canaan. “…and the souls they made in Haran.” (B’reisheit, 12:5) She showed them how to perceive and relate to reality through the acquisition of knowledge. She too uprooted herself from her birthplace and homeland demonstrating total faith in God’s word to her husband. She was taken, forcibly, by two different world leaders for immoral purposes. She was saved from being raped through Divine intervention. She merited a personal miracle to conceive at an old age.

Furthermore, Sarah was a prophetess. In a dispute with Avraham, Hashem tells him to listen to Sarah’s advice on a very painful family situation. “The matter greatly distressed Avraham regarding his son (Ishmael). …God said, ‘Whatever Sarah tells you heed her voice…’” (B’reisheit 21:11-12) Her wisdom in this case saved the integrity of Judaism for all future generations.  Her contributions to the foundation of Judaism were invaluable.

 In short, Sarah was the paradigm of virtue, modesty, and intellectual perfection. She was the perfect mate for Avraham. Rabbi Soloveitchik, of blessed memory, observed that although Avraham outlived Sarah by many years, after she died, other than finding a wife for Yitzchak, his role in creating the nation of Israel ceased as well.

By appreciating who Sarah was, we can then understand the concern Avraham displayed, in this week’s Torah portion, Chaye Sarah, finding the right wife for his son Yitzchak. Avraham understood better than anyone how this new philosophic nation was to be developed in order to best position it for eternal perpetuation. It had to be built by couples who would dedicate themselves, even sacrifice their lives if necessary, to establish for all time this revolutionary way of life.

The woman to be Yitzchak’s mate and partner for the next stage of development  would have to possess many attributes. Kindness and caring for others for sure had to be part of her internal make up. But she also had to have insight into human personality, intellectual acumen, and the strength of character to act courageously, if need be, to protect and safeguard the direction of building this unique nation.

Rivka would prove to be the right choice. Even as a very young girl she displayed the modesty and virtues that would mold the next generation of adherents. She possessed the requisite intellectual fortitude to reject the idolatrous practices of her family and society. She was independent of spirit. She decided on her own to leave her family and homeland and join with Yitzchak, continuing his parent’s dedicated purpose, to bring the truth of God to the world.  This character trait will play a pivotal role at a later event, Yitzchak’s intention to bless their son Esau. Rivka’s wisdom and intervention will determine the direction and preserve the future of this nation.

As we will read in subsequent Torah portions, women and in particular the wives of the Patriarchs played crucial roles in creating and developing the nation of Israel. Unfortunately, their role is either neglected, misconstrued, or improperly represented in today’s Jewish community. Far from being a male created and dominated way of life, Judaism is truly unique. We regard our Matriarchs with equal value to our Patriarchs. No other religion can make this claim.

May Hashem continue His protecting care over the people of Israel and God-fearing people the world over.

My appreciation to Rabbi Reuven Mann, friend and teacher, for sharing his insights on this topic incorporated above.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Robert Kaplan