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November 5, 2021 12:21 pm
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Is There Such a Thing as the Perfect Marriage?

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

Opinion

A Torah scroll. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The marriage of Isaac and Rebecca appears on the surface to have been a perfect one. Theirs was the only relationship among the patriarchs where there was no second wife to contend with, nor with the jealousy or strife that a second wife or partner brings. They fell in love with each other from the start. Together, they faced Rebecca’s inability to have children, and they prayed to God. But for all their devotion, something was missing.

While Rebecca was going through a difficult pregnancy, she received a Divine message that she was having twins, and that the elder son would serve the younger one. It appears that she did not tell her husband; or, if she did, he ignored her. The twins grew into two very different characters. One was physical and aggressive, the other more cerebral and controlled. Isaac preferred the more aggressive Esau. Rebecca preferred Jacob.

When towards the end of Isaac’s life, he wants to give his blessing and legacy, he chooses Esau. Rebecca then sets about persuading Jacob to pretend that he is Esau to get the blessing, because in her view — and God’s — he is the best person to lead the family into the next generation. Jacob remonstrates, yet he does as she asks, and gets the blessing.

Esau, furious at being cheated, threatens to kill Jacob. Rebecca tells Jacob to flee back to her family in Haran to escape. To Isaac, she says the reason is so that Jacob can find a wife; she does not mention Esau’s threat. Once again, communication is absent.

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Was this a failure in their marriage, or simply a recognition that there were insuperable differences as to who would be best suited to take the Abrahamic legacy forward? And if Isaac believed he was right, why did he refuse to retract the blessing when he found out he had been misled?

Perhaps one can explain the apparent lack of openness and confidence because of an incident that occurred when the couple went to live with the Philistine king Avimelech, in Gerar — and Isaac said Rebecca was his sister. Perhaps she felt compromised.

The fact is that in every marriage, there are differences that may or may not be resolved. No relationship is always perfect. And the best of marriages often has to overcome temporary rifts, misunderstandings, or failures in communication. Sometimes there are no easy solutions. Diplomacy, even artifice, may have its uses.

The Torah is a magnificent record of human states and affairs, designed to give us tools and guidance. Human beings are never perfect, and often messy. We all have our failures. Our challenge is to focus on the positive rather than the negative.

Shabbat Shalom.

The author is a writer and rabbi, currently living in New York.

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