There once lived a great tzaddik, the gadol hador of his time, whose name we learned during our earliest school days.
This tzaddik had earned an international reputation as the consummate host, he was a baal chesed, a wealthy man, and had even proven his military prowess, defeating an army of four powerful kings in a single night, when five other kings before him had failed.
And, in case all of the above wasn’t good enough, this tzaddik possessed an eternal promise from G-d, that he would be the forefather of a great nation that would dwell in the choicest of all lands.
One would think such a man would have been scooped up at a young age by a potential marriage partner, yet we find that Yitzchak Avinu, the son of Avraham Avinu, was approaching age forty and had still not found his bashert.
Nowadays, eligible bochurim far younger than forty are already deemed to have fallen through the cracks of what has become known as the “shidduch crisis,” yet there is no evidence that either Avraham or Yitzchak had any such concern.
What makes the case of Yitzchak even more curious is that Avraham had apparently not even begun to search for a shidduch for Yitzchak. The Maharam Shick (Responsa, Even Ha’ezer #1) strengthens this question, pointing out that Avraham excelled in the trait of performing every mitzvah swiftly and without delay. Yet it seems he left the mitzvah of marrying off his son unfulfilled for many years.
Why is this? Is this an exceptional case that pertained only to Avraham and Yitzchak, or is there a lesson we can learn from them that we can apply in our generation?
Before attempting to resolve this question, there is another puzzling facet of Yitzchak’s relatively late marriage pertinent to our discussion.
It would be safe to assume that since most of the residents of Canaan in those days were wicked and idol worshippers, the pickings must have been slim, another possible reason for Yitzchak’s late marriage. Yet Chazal tell us Eliezer, the faithful servant of Avraham and a talmid chacham in his own right, had a daughter he thought would be the perfect match for Yitzchak; the proverbial girl next door. But Avraham Avinu spurned this shidduch because Eliezer, great as he was, descended from a cursed nation.
Some commentators say the foregoing discussion is moot because Rivkah Imeinu, who Yitzchak eventually married, was his bashert. Rabbeinu Eliyahu Mizrahi, the Gur Aryeh, and the Ohr HaChaim (commenting on Bereishis 25:20) all explain that Yitzchak could not have married any earlier, as he had to wait until Rivkah was three years old.
This answer is not sufficient, according to the Ramban (Bereishis 24:7), who apparently understood that Avraham was unaware Rivkah was Yitzchak’s intended bride. Had he realized this he would have specifically instructed Eliezer to bring Rivkah back from Charan.
The Proving Ground
What appears likely is that Avraham, before he could choose the proper wife for Yitzchak, needed to wait until it became crystal clear exactly what Yitzchak’s focus in avodas Hashem would be and how great he would become. It was only after Akeidas Yitzchak, when Yitzchak’s enormous power of self-sacrifice for Hashem came to the fore, that Avraham Avinu decided the timing was fortuitous to find the partner who could complement Yitzchak’s exalted personality.
Indeed, it was during the Akeidah that Yitzchak demonstrated that he too was truly a blessed individual, and that his form of avodas Hashem was his own independent development, beyond the training received from his father. Yitzchak Avinu did not simply submit passively to being sacrificed on Avraham’s Mizbeiyach. Chazal relate (Yalkut Shimoni #101) that he took an active part in all preparations for this awesome task.
Eliezer, on the other hand, is described by Chazal as a “doleh u’mashkeh.” He could draw from Avraham’s Torah and disseminate it to the masses, but unlike Yitzchak, he himself was “cursed” in that he lacked the power to be mechadesh anything in the service of Hashem.
In light of the above, we can better understand why the Torah prefaced the story of Eliezer’s excursion to Charan with the verse: (Bereishis 24:1), “Avraham was aged; he had experienced many years, and Hashem had blessed him bakol — with everything.” Rashi, citing a midrash, states that bakol has the same numerical value as the word for “son” — ben.
By pointing this out, the Torah teaches us much more than the fact that Avraham had a son. The Torah is describing his son’s unique characteristics. It teaches that this son was the paradigm of “bakol.” He was complete. He had perfected himself in every aspect of avodas Hashem, and it was during the Akeidah that this became apparent to Avraham Avinu. Once Avraham realized Yitzchak was “bakol,” Avraham knew it was time to marry him off.
This can help explain why sometimes the shidduch process goes very quickly and successfully, and culminates in a happy marriage, as it did with Yitzchak and Rivkah, while at other times, it drags on for years, the process losing its luster and causing lingering suffering.
There is a critical stage in the development of our children, when a strong signal emerges that they are ready to meet their life’s partner. There is no universal age for this. For some boys and girls it happens at eighteen or twenty, for others, at twenty-two or even later. There is no magic number or a button to press to speed up its arrival.
But it is perceptible and we see it time and again, but we don’t necessarily understand how it plugs into the shidduch process. Just as Avraham Avinu perceived a new dimension to his son, we too are often surprised and sometimes even shocked when a new dimension to a child’s personality suddenly appears, revealing a new facet or new strength we never knew existed. When this occurs — and again, it takes place at different ages — whole new avenues open up including some that might have previously seemed closed.
Who perceives all this? The answer is a combination of one’s rebbeim, roshei yeshivos, seminary heads, parents, and even the boy or the girl. As our children develop into young men and women, we must be keenly aware of major new dimensions or talents bursting into bloom or at the very least, starting to sprout.
It might take longer for this process to become apparent with shy people (and even for those who are more gregarious); some people just naturally take longer to mature. Some girls are perfectly happy to be with their friends and some boys just want to immerse themselves in their learning and are satisfied with the occasional simchah and socializing that come from dancing at the weddings of fellow bochurim.
If that is where they are holding, they won’t outgrow it simply through the marriage bond. While we do mature through marriage, the main precondition for being truly ready for marriage is when one feels they just don’t have shleimus without it. It’s not just a physical need or a social need because all their friends are getting married. The boy and girl themselves must feel that without their bashert they cannot fully accomplish what they need to in this world. It was only when Adam HaRishon realized he was incomplete without a wife that Hashem put him into a deep slumber and created Chavah, his eizer knegdo.
Hashem’s words, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” is not a statement indicating an oversight in Creation, chas v’shalom. Rather, the verse means: When man will realize that it is not good for him to be alone, then — and not before that time — will I create his helpmate.
This formula set the pattern for all marriages that would follow. That is how it was when the first two human beings were created, and that is how it remains today.
The Torah has taught us a fundamental principle, as well as guidance for every person as he or she prepares to build a household.
When searching for a spouse, it is of paramount importance to understand the personality traits and the life goals of the candidate one meets, and to know they match one’s own personality and goals. Only once this is established can one take into account other attributes and talents, since they can only accentuate the basic traits already existing in that candidate’s soul and bring those goals to realization for the ultimate benefit of both parties.
Rav Dovid Hofstedter is the founder and nasi of Dirshu, a worldwide Torah movement whose raison d’être is accountability in Torah learning among all segments of Klal Yisrael, with over 15,000 participants worldwide. Notable Dirshu programs include: Daf HaYomi B’Halachah, Kinyan Torah, Chazoras HaShas, Kinyan Halachah, Kollel Baalei Batim, and the Acheinu Kiruv Rechokim program. Dirshu also publishes the acclaimed “Mehaduras Dirshu” Mishnah Berurah and other noted publications.