Four Pathways to Marriage

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Netzavim-Vayelech 5771 – translated by R. Blumberg]

There are four pathways to marriage, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. What they have in common is that they are all good and straightforward, and everything depends on the person himself. The four pathways are: Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah.
What is Sarah’s pathway? Sarah was a relative of Avraham, his niece. They were well aware of each other over many years' time, and there were no surprises involved. Everything was known in advance. Everything was fine and upright.
What about Rivkah? That was a set-up, a match. Yet it wasn't a set-up like nowadays, where a boy and a girl meet once, and then again, and examine their compatibility. Rather, it was a prearranged match, such as was practiced in ancient times, and today is very rare. Yitzchak had more faith in Avraham's servant Eliezer than he had in himself. Yitzchak had been offered up as a burnt offering. He was a holy of holies. By contrast, Eliezer was one who soaked up wisdom from his master Avraham, and would teach it to the masses. He was well acquainted with the ways of the world. He considered what to do, and in the end found the Matriarch Rivkah and said to her something along the lines of, “With this ring/jewelry you are hereby betrothed to Yitzchak, in accordance with the laws of Moshe and Israel.” When Rivkah and Yitchak met for the first time, they were already married. Only sometime later does the Torah recount that Yitzchak loved Rivkah.
And what was Rachel’s pathway? When Yaakov saw Rachel for the first time, he immediately saw that this was the soul intended for him, and the seven years of work he did to attain her felt to him like only a few days.
And how was it with Leah? It was a forced marriage. In other words, Yaakov thought he was marrying Rachel, but the morning after the wedding, he discovered that he had wed Leah (Bereshit 29:25). Obviously he was very surprised, and we, too, are surprised by the apparent audacity of the Matriarch Leah. Yet the Torah does not say that Yaakov rejected the match. Rather, he accepted it.
Four pathways to marriage, four different beginnings, and yet all of them leading to love, harmony and friendship. We thus derive that it is not the beginning of the marriage that is important, but the continuation of it over time.
Marriage is a long road, a long haul, and shared journey.
To what may it be compared? To a long race. In a 100 meter dash, the person who does not start exactly on time can lose on that account. Even a second's delay can ruin his chances of success. But in a forty-two kilometer marathon, even a full-minute's delay need not be critical. A less-than ideal beginning can still end well. Marriage is the same way.
A boy once asked his father, “Daddy, how much did Mommy cost you?” His father answered, “I can no longer recall what I paid for the ring, but I must keep paying all my life.” And what is this never-ending payment? According to the Ketubah: "love and honor, support and [provision]”.
Imagine an advertising flyer for some product that states in bold letters, “Only 100 shekels!” and in the fine print: “and another 50 shekels every month for the next ten years…” This is in essence what the groom agrees to. He says to his bride: “With this ring you are hereby betrothed to me [immediately],” but I am also signing a Ketubah that obligates me to keep showing you kindness on a daily basis.
We may also compare this to being in the army. In our holy army everything is certainly well-organized, but sometimes there are surprise missions, and the commander must announce to his troops: “Forward! We’re moving out. We’ll organize ourselves along the route.”
Marriage too is called a “route" (in beginning of Tractate Kiddushin). One has to keep investing in it along the way. One has to make a constant effort to stay on the path. Couples don’t fall in love out of the blue forever. Couples make this decision together, over and over, throughout their long journey together.