In Yeshiva we would call it a "Machloket," a debate about the very functioning of the world (To be read in the Talmudic singsong): King Lear (Act 4, Scene 3) holds, "It is the stars,/The stars above us govern our conditions." Julius Caesar (Act 1, Scene 2) argues and holds, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/ But in ourselves."
Eliezer, Abraham's servant, arrives in Nahor to find a wife for Isaac and, addressing God, decides on a sign that will determine who is the proper mate for the next patriarch: "Let it be that the maiden to whom I shall say, 'Please tip over your jug so I may drink,' and who replies, 'Drink, and I will even water your camels,' she, will have You determined for Your servant, for Isaac." (Genesis 24:14) He doesn't mention that he is, as instructed, looking for someone from Abraham's family. He finds Rebecca the daughter of Bethuel, and rejoices, "God has guided me on the way to the house of my master's brothers." (Verse 26)
If Eliezer holds like King Lear, that he is being guided by a higher force, why did he design the watering-camels test? If he holds like Julius Caesar, why does he credit the higher force with guiding him to the right place? We must also ask about Abraham: Why did he not direct Eliezer to Bethuel's home as if to allow Eliezer to choose, even as he assures his confidant that God will direct him to the right place?
We can rephrase our questions in the current Yeshivish vernacular: Why did Eliezer need a test to determine Isaac's "Bashert," would God not automatically lead him to the right woman for Isaac?
The answer, quite simply, is, "No!" Maimonides (The Eight Chapters) warns us against marrying with absolute confidence that we have found our destined mate: "God's involvement is determined by our choices." (As explained by the Ya'avetz) It is not Lear or Caesar, one or the other. We do not believe that we can sit back and allow ourselves to be guided by destiny. Nor do we believe that we alone will determine the future; we must participate with God in shaping our futures. We can choose to engage God's involvement. Abraham wanted Eliezer to assume responsibility so that God would guide him.
Shall we sit back and wait for God to save the world, or should we be participants in the process? Should we pray for the Messiah or do all we can to build a secure and functioning Israel? Is it enough for us to be meticulously observant to merit redemption, or, must we work to make it happen?
Each Mitzvah is an invitation from God to engage with Him by assuming responsibility. Every choice we make determines the degree of God's involvement. We cannot remain passive Lears, nor assume as Caesar that we lack Divine guidance. We must act as Abraham guided Eliezer, by assuming responsibility to merit God's help.
Whether finding the perfect match, making a marriage work, dealing with our children, thinking about Israel, or worrying about the economy; our job is to invite God's help by making choices.
The Foundation Stone and Blog this week offer a special series on the Eishet Chayil
focusing on the action necessary to merit God's involvement in our most significant relationship. I guess we could name the series, "How To Make Your Marriage Your Destiny."
I wish you all a Shabbat filled with the most creative work of all: The Creativity of Choice.
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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