It’s great tonight to have a doctor in the house!
Dr. Scott Haltzman, I know, will speak authoritatively on what research and therapeutic practice say about being a happily married man. We very much look forward to his remarks.
I’m here to share – in less than three minutes – some reflections on what our Jewish tradition teaches about being happy in marriage.
To start, for Jews, as you know, the idea of “happy” is a complex thing.
Those of us who had good Jewish mothers were rarely ever allowed to be simply happy. Happy, for us, came mostly by being good and dutiful, as well as listening to AND following Mom’s Mommilies. We were prepared to expect something less carefree and less untroubled than that of most of our friends.
Given this background, we shouldn’t be surprised when we look in the Bible for models of happy marriages, we DON’T find the simple and chirpy. What we can find are examples of meaningful marriages that foster a joy grounded in living true to our strongest principles.
The one I want to hold up tonight is that of Isaac and Rebecca.
Since I only have two minutes left, I will just highlight what I admire so in them.
1. I love how much thought and spirit Abraham invested in Isaac’s finding a good wife. Indeed, securing the right marriage partner for his son was hugely important for Abraham at his life’s end.
2. Second, I’m moved by what impressed Abraham’s servant most about Rebecca when he first saw her – her kindness.
Perhaps that’s a big lesson for us, too: isn’t kindness a fundamental cornerstone of a happy marriage?
3. Third, there’s love. I know there are “sexier” shows in movies and on TV, but, frankly, I’m pretty turned on by the account of Rebecca’s meeting Isaac in Genesis 24. The steamy stuff here isn’t as explicit. But, it is very much there, and it takes place as part of a real and powerful love.
4. Isaac and Rebecca did have differences, but that, too, I think, can be a sign of a healthy marriage. And, as we husbands know, when we differ, the wife is mostly right and gets her way. I’m not sure God would have ever given us the mission we ultimately inherited, had Esau won out.
5. Both parents showed a commitment to common enterprise through caring deeply about both sons, even in the face of failings and great risk. Both sought Jacob’s safety, chastening, and ultimate success. And, though we often don’t read the text carefully enough to see it, both worried about Esau’s choices, and Isaac wished deeply for reconciliation between Jacob and Esau.
6. After wrestling, Jacob and Esau did achieve some of this hoped-for reconciliation, certainly enough for them to come together later to bury their father.
7. In the end, we see something that creates perhaps the deepest happiness, and that is, through pain and difficulty, the passing on of real meaning and blessing from generation to generation. This extended all the way from Isaac’s restoring his father’s wells through Jacob’s fulfilling the vision that Rebecca saw with God – the establishment of a people and the earliest beginnings of Israel.
We all might not achieve full, conventionally happy marriages. Indeed we may not even be in marriages. But the stories in our Bible, such as those of Isaac and Rebecca, do show us, in our relationships and our marriages, how we can find our way to living true to principle and purpose. We see how such living makes us truly and deeply happy.
Well – those are some thoughts from our ancient tradition. Let’s see how well they square with the best of modern practice.