Chayei Sarah: Rebecca’s Ring

Becoming Complete

The Torah is famously terse, often conveying tremendous meaning in a single word or even letter or even size of letter. So why are a full 67 verses dedicated to the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca? Many of the details are repeated twice, both when they happen and when they are later told to Rebecca’s parents. Perhaps the two tellings of the marriage story relate to the teaching of our Sages that there are two types of marriage: those between human and human, and those between God and human. The seemingly mundane details of Rebecca and Isaac’s engagement contain vital lessons on how to approach our own marriages, both physical and spiritual.

The story begins when Abraham entrusts his emissary Eliezer with the holy task of finding a wife for Isaac. When Eliezer encounters a girl at the well who passes the “camel test” – she offers water not only to him but to his camels – he knows that she is fit to be the wife of his illustrious master’s son. Eliezer presents gifts to Rebecca, including “a golden ring, a half-shekel in weight” (Gen. 24:22). This detail seems odd. Abraham is a wealthy man and can easily afford a full shekel of gold for his future daughter-in-law. Plus, it says in the Torah that items designated for a holy purpose should be “the choicest to God” (Mishnah Torah on Lev. 3:16). “Choicest” can also mean “whole.” An etrog missing its piton cannot be used on Sukkot; a pre-sliced loaf of challah does not belong on the Shabbat table. So why is Rebecca’s engagement ring only a half, not a whole? Why is it incomplete?

Jewish mysticism teaches that a soul contains both male and female aspects. Therefore, each of us comes into this world incomplete, embodying either the male half or the female half of a single soul. Marriage fuses the two broken parts into one unified whole. It is fitting that Rebecca receives an engagement gift weighing only half a shekel, because until she marries Isaac she cannot be whole and thus able to fulfill her lofty spiritual mission. So too, our marriage to God – individually and as a people – heals broken souls and brings completion, making us holy vessels ready for Divine service.


Image: “Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well” by Ottavio Vannini, 1626




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