Thursday, November 19, 2009

Toldos—Tired Of Dating?

Conventional wisdom holds that this week’s parsha’s focus is on the family, as evidenced from its very title. I’m going to attempt to turn that notion on its head and try to show that the parsha is trying to tell us something about the nature of communication between the sexes and possibly how the lack thereof before a marriage can cause problems later in the marriage.

In a day and age where a molestation victim killed himself the night after his wedding because he realized he wasn’t anywhere near ready [1], and there is still some “da’as Torah” circles that insist that homosexuality is cured by marriage [R’ J.D. Bleich insisted this must be true because “ein hakadosh baruch hub a be-tiryona im biryosav”], the urgency of “communicating” this seems to have become more pressing.

As an unabashed “modern” and [too] long upper west sider, I basically heard the “da’as Torah” world’s insistence on dating exclusively for tachlis as so: if you let the “system” handle all the potentially messy elements of “dating” [e.g., you don’t go on “real” dates], you’ll avoid the messes inherent in relations between the sexes; you’re practically guaranteed to have the “yud” and the “heh” between the “esh” of “ish” and “ishah”. [R’ Pinchas Stolper’s “The Jewish Way In Love, Dating And Marriage” is one such publication that hews close to this line].

The stories of the avos’ marriages should actually place this notion to bed. Avraham and Sarah’s marital difficulties were legendary, not least due to Hagar/Yishmael and “achosi hi” ; Yaakov’s harem was bound to be problematic [and see my Vayetzei on last year for my take on the wedding night and the Rachel/Leah switch]. However, Yitzchak and Rivkah’s difficulties are more instructive, particularly as, since I pointed out last week, they make up the only monogamous relationship of the three. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin [2] mentions Yitzchak’s conflicted emotions toward his father which was, indirectly at least, a driving force behind the story of how the shidduch with Rivka was executed.

More interestingly, however, was a shiur I heard in 1996 from Avivah Gottlieb Zorenberg about the Rivka seeing Yitzchak for the kaddosh that he was at first sight [and she was so startled that she fell off the camel—see last week, 24:64]. This made her more than occasionally diffident about approaching him directly in communication, as evidenced in this week’s parsha by “le’nochach ishto”, by the fact that she went to Shem for advice—and that she couldn’t tell Yitzchak what she REALLY knew about Esav except by having Yaakov steal the brachos. Even when she did manage to “break the distance” when she had to send Yaakov away, she couldn’t even be candid about the reasons with Yitzchak.

What we see is that anyone who marvels at the “shidduch” system to the point that they portray it a panacea are actually causing more damage than they prevent. [And the special sibling rivalries that resulted.]

Beyond all that and back to my original gripe, it’s as if the worst thing about the “shidduch crisis” is not that people aren’t getting married, it’s that [gasp!] they’ll have to go on “dates”—and they might go on some “real” ones. One might think that, as far as thses people are concerned, all “real” dates end up like Esav coming back from the field tired [according to the medrash, from ravishing a na’arah me’urasa and killing her intended.] One forgets Esav, as midrashim in this parsha relate, was the first “faker” of frumkeit, outwardly portraying a conspicuous religiosity that ostensibly fooled his father, up to the point of his “shidduch” at 40 [Rashi; “My father married at 40…”], when by all rights the ruse should have been uncovered [and was, to a point, but really lasted until after the Yaakov stole the Brachos, when Esav finally dropped the pretense entirely.]

I think what this incident with Esav [the ravish and the murder—sex and death] sums up is, indirectly, what I once said [not here] about the relationship curse of “b-ze’as apecha tochal lechem” [interchanging “lechem” with “pas b’salo”]: it isn’t the “sweat” of work that’s necessarily the curse; it’s the “headache”, the special “ze’as apecha”, that’s the true “pain” of “work”—and the curse is that relationships are going to take work.

No matter what kind—“holy” or otherwise.



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