Parashat Hayei Sara / Made for Each Other?

Yair Caspi
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'Rebecca and Eliezer,' by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (circa 1652).Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Yair Caspi

“Were we made for each other?” This is the question asked at the beginning of a relationship and at various times over the years. It alludes to the fact that, even after we have dismissed God as a supreme authority, we still assume there is some underlying plan in reality and wish to know whether the relationship is sheer coincidence, a mistake, or something that was meant to be.

In the absence of a supreme authority or of a method for deciphering its intentions, the question “Were we made for each other?” undergoes a process of reduction. In a culture lacking the willingness to undertake a mission that dictates certain actions, or to accept collective responsibility, people tend to privatize their mission. They will ask, “What is my professional mission? Tell me who was meant for me, but do not remind me of any mission to humanity, my social role or my role as an Israeli.”

Our personal mission is derived from our sense of that of humanity's destiny, or that of the group we belong to. The privatization of a mission to the level of the needs of a one-on-one relationship or of a professional endeavor prevents us from discovering it. It is hard to answer the question “Were we meant for each other” without first knowing “What kind of person am I meant to be?” No amount of psychological treatment can answer this question, because science has nothing to do with destiny – that is, what kind of relationship we must have.

Those who attempt to clarify their common purpose without first identifying their own mission as human beings are doomed to an eternal struggle with the question “Am I with the right person?” Those who seek to fulfill their common purpose, but do not want to find God, search in their despair for fortune-tellers who will reveal their mission in the stars or in numbers. Those who do not worship God, writes Rabbi Bachaya Ibn Pakuda, 11th-century author of “Duties of the Heart” (“Hovot halevavot”), worship their partner. Out of these two possibilities, God is a better choice.

Isaac, Abraham’s son, seeks a woman from a similar background, in this week’s reading, “Hayei Sarah” (Genesis 23:1-25:18). A Canaanite woman, who worships Baal or Astarte, is unsuitable. Today, the functions of the bride’s father and his slave, and those of the bride’s brother and family, are now delegated to Isaac and Rebecca, who must decipher the divine voices on their own (Genesis 24).

Isaac’s quest for a wife in Aram-Naharaim begins with the acceptance of the limits imposed upon him by his mission. If he finds a woman he can love and she refuses to go back with him to the Land of Israel, he is prepared to give her up: “And if the woman be not willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath; only thou shalt not bring my son back thither” (Gen. 24:8). Isaac knows who he is and what his life’s role is; he wants more than a mere relationship.

Like any young man, he seeks signs from heaven that the relationship is meant to be. The rare beauty of a young woman beside a well might presage a sort of supernatural perfection, and her generosity might hint at a divine presence that is willing to be shared among its beloved followers.

Those who know their personal destiny go on a date not to mesmerize or captivate, but to find a kindred spirit with a common purpose. He shares with her the signs suggesting they may be intended for one another – “[She is] the woman whom the Lord hath appointed for my master’s son” (Gen. 24:44) – and waits to see if they share the same God, and if she will receive him as the interpreter of certain signs.

He does not speak only in his own name or in the name of the attraction he is feeling. Momentarily, at least, he is also feeling empowered by the one who gives all beings their proper designation.

At the same time, however, he is prepared for the eventuality that he has misinterpreted the signs: “And now if ye will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me; that I may turn to the right hand, or to the left” (Gen. 24:49). A purpose seeker can also see rejection as a sign.

The bride’s spokespersons reply: “The thing proceedeth from the Lord; we cannot speak unto thee bad or good. Behold, Rebecca is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master’s son’s wife, as the Lord hath spoken” (Gen. 24:50-51).

A willing spirit is not sufficient to sustain a relationship; there is still one more domain to be checked: “Wilt thou go with this man?” And she said: “I will go” (Gen. 24:58). The body also knows something about divine intentions.

This is the moment of unconscious faith in the creation of a purpose-laden relationship when those who are aware of their mission say to the potential partner, “I think we are meant for each other,” and the latter feels these are the words of a supreme being.

A couple who feel they have a shared mission become, in their first date, two interconnected scholars seeking signs of a presence that transcends them. Years later they will recall that when they first met, “We felt a click.”