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11 Marcheshvan, 5784 - October 26, 2023 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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The Fundamentals of the Torah Approach to Shidduchim

by Y. Ben David

Image by Holiak on Freepik

Part III

What to look for...

For Part II of this series click here.

Fight Staunchly Against Personal Interests

The Alter of Novardok extracts from the chapter of Eliezer and Rivka a lesson on how one should steer clear of personal negiyos by leaning over backwards in the opposite direction.

The Torah quotes Eliezer as saying to Avrohom, "Perhaps — ulai — she will not be willing to return with me."

Our Sages note that this is written without the letter `vov', reading "eilay — to me." Eliezer had a daughter whom he wished to marry to Yitzchok. It was in his interest that he fail to find a wife for his master's son so that he would marry Eliezer's daughter.

As soon as Eliezer became aware of his personal interest in the matter, he knew that he would have to bend over backward to overcome his natural tendencies to manipulate the affair for his benefit or simply to shirk his duty. And so he went forth to battle his own negia. As the Rambam says, "To begin with, a person should try to bend himself to the other extreme of his trait and persevere this way until he is able to return to the middle road."

If a person wishes to straighten out a metal rod, he must bend it in the opposite direction, after which he will be able to straighten it. Eliezer invested much energy, effort and wile to make sure that his mission would succeed.

First he prayed for heavenly assistance lest he succumb to his own self-interest. As soon as he saw that Rivka incorporated the signs he had established, he immediately gave her the nose rings, even though he had not yet ascertained that she was from Avrohom's family. It was a risk on his part, for he might have had to replace them from his own money if he was mistaken. But he feared that his doubts might cause him to withhold them and find excuses and so he took the extreme step.

His not agreeing to eat before saying his piece stemmed from the same reason. When Rivka's family suggested that she remain for ten months or a year, he again feared that his personal interests might get in the way, and he was vehemently opposed. In the light of these insights, we can understand why the Torah was so lengthy in its double account of this particular shidduch.


If There is No `Flour' — It Means There Is No Torah

Livelihood is one of the most pressing problems that confront a Torah scholar. Yirmiyohu dealt with this and tried to allay such fears. Rashi says that the manna was deposited in a flask "for your generations" — the era of Yirmiyohu.

The prophet berated the people over their laxity in Torah study. And they replied, "Shall we abandon our work and study Torah? How will we support ourselves?"

Whereupon Yirmiyohu took out the flask of manna and said, "See the word of Hashem." Why `see' and not `hear'? He showed them that their ancestors were supported by the manna and told them that Hashem has many ways of providing a deserving person with his sustenance.

The Alshich comments on: "If there is no flour, there is no Torah" as follows: "The Tana wishes to remove from the hearts of people any excuse for not studying Torah because of the need to earn a livelihood. The opposite holds true. Not studying Torah is the reason for a lack of `flour.' This is why the Mishna states the opposite: if there is no Torah, there is no flour."

The Ohr HaChaim says, "Hashem does not expect a person to study Torah until He has provided him with a source of livelihood. And this is what the Tana said: if there is no flour, there is no Torah, meaning, if you see that there is no flour, no parnossa, it is because there is no Torah."

This idea is repeated in Yalkut Shimoni: "Hashem said to Moshe: Recite a chapter over it and the stone will produce water." How can a chapter of Torah extract water from a stone? This should not be surprising. In fact, this shows the secret power of Torah.

The true reality is that wherever there is Torah, there can be no lack of sustenance to Torah scholars. If the people thirst for water, then nature must change itself, since the people were absorbed in learning Torah. Creation is there to serve those who study Torah.

Our Sages comment on, "And they did not find any water," that "Water always refers to Torah." If the people asked for water, it indicates that there was a dearth of Torah, for if Torah is complete, there can be no lack in material needs and no call for shouting for water (Tosafos Shabbos, p. 188).

The Baal Hamikne says that whoever has faith in Hashem can study Torah without concern for sustenance. If a Torah scholar finds it necessary to work for his livelihood, he must be lacking in bitochon. Even Shleima writes: Men of valor are those courageous ones who are perfect in their bitochon and study Torah day and night; they pay no attention to their children who cry out for bread, as it is written, `Black like ravens.' [Ravens are known to abandon their young.] And what does Hashem do? He sends him a supporter."


Never Compromise on Good Character

The answers to all the questions which confront and confound the two sides as they stand before one of the major decisions in their life, choosing a mate, can be found in the chapter of the meeting between Eliezer and Rivka by the well.

The Importance of Active Kindness

R' Yechezkel Levenstein, mashgiach ruchani of Ponovezh, assigns great weight to the test which Eliezer put to Rivka in order to discover if she incorporated the trait of chesed. Eliezer felt that one who was perfect in this characteristic would, perforce, reach the realization that Hashem exists, simply from his own gratitude to a Creator and Provider.

In Ohr Yechezkel he writes that Eliezer made no test to discover piety or righteousness, only to test the prospective girl's kindness. He sought to discover if she would offer to water his camels, too, even though she could plainly see that he was accompanied by ten able bodied servants.

Elsewhere, R' Yechezkel also writes that Eliezer felt that this one test was sufficiently indicative of a suitable mate, even though his master, Avrohom, possessed many other vital traits such as G-d-fear, trust in Hashem and so on. Why did he not test her in these? How could she enter Avrohom's household without these?

R' Yechezkel writes: "We learn from here a basic tenet in avodas Hashem, for which an incisive understanding and knowledge of mussar is necessary; when a person possesses any one trait perfectly, it alone can raise him up and lead him to the acquisition of and perfection in the other necessary traits. Chesed, in particular, can lead to other traits, and especially to faith in Hashem."

R' Eliyahu Lopian writes, "[The chapter of Eliezer] teaches us the fundamental rule, which is an amazing revelation that may be difficult to grasp but is, nevertheless, true. Even though fear of Hashem is the basis of one's G-dly worship, as we find that after all of Avrohom's trials, after all the levels he attained, the Torah accords him the ultimate praise, `Now I know that you are truly G-d-fearing.' Nevertheless... a person who has a refined nature and possesses good character traits may even lack true piety, but once he realizes that yiras shomayim is necessary, he will work on acquiring it, and will do so without difficulty."

He explains why: "One who possesses good traits has the foundation of building himself up and attaining the most elevated levels, which is not true with a corrupt, degenerate person. One with bad traits is ruled by his evil nature; he can hardly escape it; all of his efforts in serving Hashem are in vain...

R' Chaim Vital says that one must beware of evil traits more than he must labor to observe the mitzvos, both prohibitive and commitive, for once a person has acquired good traits, he will find it easy to keep all the mitzvos."

The Good Combination of Wisdom and Courtesy

The Beis Halevi draws the lesson from Eliezer's test that he wished to see if Rivka not only had a good nature, but also possessed the common sense and courtesy not to insult a person. He writes that even though Eliezer's signs had an element of begging for Divine intervention, they still were a legitimate test to discover a basic common sense underlying her goodness.

To begin with, Eliezer would ask the prospective candidate for a drink. Since there were no cups, this would give her the excuse of refusing to give him directly from her pitcher on the unspoken grounds that he might pollute the water with his saliva or with a disease he might be carrying.

The second test in common sense would be to see what she did with the remaining water. Would she take it home, as it was, after he had drunk from the pitcher? This would not be right; perhaps the stranger was not healthy. But if she poured out the water and filled her pitcher again, it would be insulting to him. The only decent way out of this dilemma would be to offer to water the camels, and then pour out the remainder in the trough.

Thus, she would be able to fill up her pitcher with fresh water to take home. This way, she would pass the triple test of goodness, common sense and courtesy.

Having done what was in his power to choose a proper wife for Avrohom's son by establishing a true test, Eliezer did the next thing: he prayed to Hashem that he succeed.

In the end, Rivka surpassed Eliezer's expectations by offering to water the camels "until they finished drinking." Her purpose was to show Eliezer that she had not offered to water the camels only to get rid of the extra water in the pitcher which she did not want to bring home. She was saving his dignity in a most honorable fashion.

Her goodness was tempered by wisdom and common courtesy.

The Steipler once advised a young man: "Money is a good thing, but only if it is accessible. If not, don't make an issue of it. But when it comes to a good character — don't compromise under any circumstances. For if a wife does not have a good nature, you will be living in hell." And he repeated this over and over to stress his point (Beis Rebbe).

He Should Marry a Bas Talmid Chochom

HaRav Shach writes in one of his letters: "I wish to point something out. I know that your son has reached marriageable age. From my experience, I know that the most important thing for him to seek is the daughter of a talmid chochom who was raised with the proper outlook. She will carry this over to the education of her children in the Torah way and will curb her demands on her husband for luxuries, which are not always affordable. This is not true with the daughter of a rich man who grew up accustomed to a life of comfort. She will object to her husband's continued study.

"But we know that success and wealth are from heaven and there is no guarantee even if one marries into a rich family that it will last forever. I, therefore, advise you to see to only one thing: that your son look for the daughter of a talmid chochom and a family of Torah. May Hashem grant you much satisfaction from him..."

A yeshiva student once came to the Steipler for advice concerning a match which was not progressing because the other side demanded more. When Rabbenu made inquiries and learned that the family involved was that of a talmid chochom, he said, "It's a house of Torah. You will be able to devote the rest of your life to study without interruption. It is worth your adding more in order to settle and seal the matter."

Two young people once met for matrimonial purposes. The girl had heard that the other side did not draw water on Shabbos [from the tap, using only what has been prepared in the house beforehand] and she expressed her reservations about being to maintain such a standard. He brought the matter to the Steipler, who said, "She does not want you to learn indefinitely. She does not want a ben Torah. She wants you to work for a living. Supporting a ben Torah for the rest of his life is far more difficult than managing without drawing water on Shabbos."

Birchei Yosef writes that if a young man feels that by taking the daughter of a simple but G-d-fearing man he will feel more confident in spending the rest of his life studying Torah, he should marry such a girl rather than the daughter of a renowned Torah scholar.


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