>We Jews are obsessed about matchmaking. There is a popular stereotype of the Jewish mother who is always trying to find a wife for her eligible sons, but actually this is a community wide activity. Our Jewish sport is setting people up. We’ve even developed a scoring system, so that according to Jewish folklore, when you score a hat-trick (having made three matches which end in marriage) you automatically guarantee yourself a place in Heaven. And this sport even has professionals, as Shadchanim (matchmakers), go around arranging shidduchim (matches) within the Jewish community (in our modern world if you visit http://www.shiduchim.com it will link you to an Orthodox Jewish dating site).
We have our first matchmaker in this week’s Torah portion, as Abraham entrusts his senior servant (usually associated with Eliezer of Damasek) with the task of finding a wife for Isaac. Abraham made Eliezer swear an oath ‘that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell, but will go to the land of my birth and get a wife for my son Isaac’ (Genesis 24:3-4). For Abraham the national identity of his son’s future wife is paramount – this may effectively be the first time a Jewish parent said: ‘I want to find a nice Jewish girl for my son,’ or words to that effect.
However, Eliezer recognised that there would be more to making a successful marriage, than a shared ancestry, and so once he had reached the well outside the city of Nahor, he made a deal with God about the type of woman he was looking for. ‘Let the maiden to whom I say, “Please, lower your jar that I may drink,” and who replies, “Drink, and I will also water your camels” – let her be the one whom You have decreed for your servant Isaac’ (Genesis 24:14). Eliezer essentially asks for a sign from God about the woman whom Isaac should marry, but through the sign he also says something about her character. An appropriate wife, in Eliezer’s opinion, is a woman who will be generous to strangers and even to their animals.
Abraham was concerned by nationality, above all else, but Eliezer, the first Shadchan, reminds us that it takes more than a shared identity to make a marriage work. To fulfil Abraham’s request, Eliezer could have brought back a variety of girls from Abraham’s homeland, and in the style of a Shushan beauty contest, he could have found a wife for Isaac. But rather than pursuing a scatter gun approach, Eliezer looked a little bit deeper, and found a prospective partner for Isaac, who had an appropriate soul and spirit.
Rebecca is a very interesting choice as a wife for Isaac. On the one hand she is a woman from Abraham’s homeland, and a member of his extended familial tribe. But we may assume that she had no idea of the covenant, of which Abraham and Isaac were both a part, and so we can also imagine that she was the first woman who converted to Judaism when marrying her husband.
We might consider that when Jewish folklore set the bar at three couples for a place in Heaven, it was setting the bar rather low. But those of us who have tried to ‘set people up’ and act as the Jewish matchmaker, know that it is not always easy. We often go by appearance or profession, without looking more deeply at whether two people will really be suited. Eliezer looked more deeply, and when the couple were introduced, ‘Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, he took Rebecca as his wife, and he loved her’ (Genesis 24:67). We know that Eliezer was at least one third of the way to Heaven.