We learn a lot of moral and ethical lessons from the bible. Can the bible also teach us some Jewish dating advice? While the etiquette and customs related to dating were certainly a bit different from what we’re used to today, the fundamental principles, issues, and challenges of dating and falling in love are surprisingly similar. So in my next few blog posts I’d like to review and analyze some of the major biblical dating and love episodes, and try to extract lessons and wisdom that you can hopefully apply to your own situation.
The first dating story I’ll deal with is the story of how Isaac, son of Abraham, found his bride. Here are the facts: Isaac is the favorite son of one of the wealthiest, most powerful, and most popular leaders in the land of Canaan (Israel). He’s smart, studious, has great parents, and a family business to eventually run. Sounds great, right? So why is he 40 and still single? Part of the problem might be because he doesn’t really like to go out much. He’s more of a stay at home with a good book kind of guy, which is great when you’re married but not so helpful when you’re looking for your soulmate. The main problem, however, is that Abraham has forbidden him from dating any of the local Canaanite girls, because of their pagan way of life. So Isaac is in a bit of a bind. He really does want to get married, but he hasn’t got anyone to date! Don’t forget, before the days of online dating, you pretty much were confined to dating people within your immediate geographic area.
Sure, Isaac could disobey his dad and party it up with the local pagan beauties in the temples of Baal and Dagan, but he has the deep understanding and clarity to realize that these hotties will end up making miserable wives and drive him away from his chosen destiny. He really wants a special woman like his mom Sarah who, unfortunately, has recently passed away. (How tragic must that have been for her to never see her only son stand under the Chuppah?) Isaac is way too busy with family and tribal matters to travel far in search of a bride, so Abraham takes charge and sends his trusted aide Eliezer on a journey to Abraham’s old Mesopotamian hometown to find Isaac a nice girl from among his distant relatives.
What should Eliezer look for in a bride for his son? No long laundry list, just one criteria: a kind and giving nature. Ok, I guess we can assume that Eliezer had a sense of what kind of woman Isaac was attracted to, but his main focus was on finding the woman that would fit the kindness/giving bill.
To make a long story short, Eliezer travels to Mesopotamia, meets Rebecca at the local well, she offers to draw water for not only him but for his 10 camels, and he realizes that he has found Isaac’s match. When she hears about Isaac, Rebecca also realizes that he is the man for her. Think about it, wouldn’t you want a husband who’s main criteria in a wife is kindness? (And he’s rich to boot!!)
Eliezer brings Rebecca back to meet Isaac. They meet. According to the biblical text, there don’t seem to be major fireworks, but they do seem to like each other at first sight. It’s unclear from the text whether they courted for a time or not. I’ll assume that they spend at least a few days getting to know each other a bit. They marry. Only then does the bible tell us that they fell in love. Isaac never takes another wife besides Rebecca, so the marriage must have worked out for them.
That’s the story, in a nutshell. What are the Jewish dating lessons we can learn?
1. The MOST important quality that you need in a partner is kindness. You want to be with someone who will always be giving to you, and you hopefully will be reciprocating. A relationship based on “what can I get from you” is doomed to failure. Marriage has very little room for selfishness. Raising children has none at all. There were plenty of beautiful, wealthy, and exciting women to choose from in the neighborhood, but they didn’t have the kindness that Isaac knew was vital for a successful relationship. They also didn’t share his life view; i.e. they were idolators.
2. Isaac was ready for marriage. He had made a conscious decision to find his mate and settle down. When he found the woman who fit what he was looking for he knew he needed to marry her even though he might not have experienced the fireworks that he might have dreamed of. Rebecca felt the same way. They both knew that they were making the right decision with the right person. When they committed to each other in marriage and began building a life together of kindness and giving, true love blossomed.
3. Family background is important to the extent that it effects a person’s upbringing and moral character. Abraham sent Eliezer to find Isaac a wife from people who’s way of child rearing he knew he could trust. He didn’t care how prominent or wealthy they were. All he cared about was their shared moral and ethical values (despite the fact that Rebecca’s brother Laban didn’t seem to exhibit those values, it seems like she nevertheless inherited them from her parents).
Are you ready to find and marry your soulmate? Have you been searching for years with no luck? Well, maybe you need to reevaluate your criteria? Is kindness number one on your list? If it isn’t, it should be. Find the person who is kind and giving and whom you’re attracted to and build a relationship together. You’ll discover the true love you’ve been waiting for right in front of your eyes and in your heart.
Stay tuned for the next installment in this series – Jacob and Rachel – coming soon.
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.