Shemot II - INGREDIENTS OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE
A FAVORITE TOPIC of discussion among the so-called intellectuals of the nineteenth century was the position of the woman amongst our people. At one such heated debate, Hershele Ostropolier, the famed Jewish wit, was present. When asked to express his view, Hershele startled everyone by saying that as far as he could see the woman was held in low esteem among Jews, and that in some instances she was considered to be even lower than animals and apostates. As proof of his opinion, he cited the following personal experience. "During one of my many travels, I happened to come to an inn. The rooms were nice and the food was execellent. I wanted to stay there for a long time but I had no money. The owner was a wealthy man, and he had a plain-looking daughter of marriageable age. When I offered to marry the girl, I was treated like a king. As the day of the wedding drew near, I realized that I had to do something quickly in order to get out of the terrible predicament I was in. I approached the innkeeper and said, 'I feel that I ought to tell you that my yichus is not what it should be. My grandfather was a thief and my brother is in jail for robbery.' 'That's nothing to worry about,' replied the owner with a shrug of the shoulder. The following day I tried again and said, "I also want you to know that one uncle of mine is an informer and another is an apostate.' 'That doesn't bother me either. What do I care about your relatives!' I finally said to the man, 'I want you to know that I have a woman in my family--and she happens to be my wife!' Whereupon the innkeeper went into a terrible rage. He jumped from his chair, beat me to a pulp and threw me out of the house. So you see that to some of our people a woman is even worse than thieves, criminals and apostates."
Anyone who is familiar with the Bible, particularly with the chapters that deal with the lives of our Patriarchs, knows that the woman occupied a high position in the home. Her advice was sought and her words were heeded. Sure, there was a division of authority and responsibility in the family. But if it is true that the husband was the king of the household, it is equally true that the wife was the queen, and shared with him the responsibility of making the house a home.
It is also noteworthy that romance as we know it today was not unfamiliar to our early ancestors. The story of Jacob and Rachel is one of the most touching and inspiring love affairs in literature. Consider the dramatic setting. Jacob is fleeing front the home of his parents because of the wrath of Esau. Friendless and homesick he arrives at a well and meets this wonderful girl and they fall in love. The many years of struggle and disappointment before they are united in marriage would make an excellent theme for a drama even today.
In commenting on the point of meeting between Moses and Ziporah, the Midrash (Exod. Rab. 1:32; Gen. Rab. 70) comments that two other important biblical personages met their mates at a well. Eliezer, the faithful servant of Abraham, met Rebecca at a well. There she was tested and found worthy of becoming the wife of Isaac. Then there was Jacob who met his wife Rachel at a well.
The Midrash wanted to know why God had ordained that these three unusual couples meet at the well, and it explains that Jewish tradition looked upon the well as the symbol of purity of character, nobility of purpose and moral grandeur. The Midrash, therefore, refuses to consider the well as a mere chance meeting place, bur offers several interpretations of what it meant to the three couples who found one another at the well.
One of the sages said that it was symbolic of the Sanhedrin--the highest court of Law, which regulated, and guided the lives of generations of our people. The Sanhedrin was a powerful institution and it taught the people to live together peacefully. It engendered in them a spirit of cooperation, unity and love.
The biblical pairs realized that a successful marriage requires the spirit of Sanhedrin --the spirit which moves both partners to surrender their self-centered interests in exchange for a community of interests. The thoughts of husband and wife, they felt, must be directed toward the wishes and needs of the other. They know that only by exercising a measure of self-restraint and self-discipline can a fine marriage endure.
Other sages were of the opinion that the well represented Zion. To loyal Jews, Zion represents the high point of their natural aspirations, hopes and dreams. When the great men of Israel contemplated marriage, they wanted to make sure that loyalty to Zion and identification with the national goals of Israel would forever saturate the hearts of their mates.
A third interpretation is that the well represented Sinia. It was at Sinai's heights that the Torah was given to our people. Thus Sinai symbolized the religion and faith of Israel. It signifies the special relationship that a Jew has with God, and his clear duty to live in accordance with the lofty tenets and teachings of Judaism.
When we congratulate the bride and groom we wish them Mazeltov, by which we mean the blessings of long life, good health, and affluence. Seldom, if ever, will anyone wish Chossen Kaleh, spiritual happiness, peace of mind, contentment of soul and a useful and dedicated life. The fact is, however, that true and abiding happiness is found only in those homes which are dedicated to the service of God and man, in which husband and wife are not only drawn to each other physically but intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally as well.
This is the kind of Mazeltov I wish the chossen and his kaleh this morning. The well and its life-giving waters are within easy reach. Drink from it to the full as did the three lovely biblical pairs and it will enrich, refresh and ennoble your lives.