Once upon a time, a pious Jew was traveling through the countryside in Eastern Europe. He came to a shtetl where the local schochet (ritual slaughterer) had just taken ill. The town butcher had no one to do the slaughtering and was desperate when he bumped into the visitor. The traveler looked pious and G‑d fearing (perhaps he wore a black hat and a beard) so the butcher asked him if he was, by any chance, a qualified schochet.
The visitor replied that he was indeed. Overjoyed, the butcher started arranging for the man to begin work in the slaughterhouse immediately. Then the visitor asked the butcher if he would kindly lend him some money as he had just arrived and needed to purchase a few things. "But you're a complete stranger," said the butcher.
"I don't know you at all, how can I possibly lend you money?" Whereupon the visitor replied, "You were prepared to trust me with the spiritual well-being of your entire community even though you never laid eyes on me, but as soon as I asked you for a few rubles suddenly you hardly know me?"
This week's Parshah tells the story of the very first shidduch in history. Abraham sends his faithful servant, Eliezer, to find a bride for his son Isaac. He hands Eliezer a document ceding his entire wealth to Isaac and makes him take a solemn oath that he will not bring back a Canaanite woman for his son but someone from Abraham's own family, from Mesopotamia.
Amazing Abraham! He writes over his entire fortune in a document to help Eliezer find the right shidduch. Is there even a mention that Abraham demanded some security from Eliezer for the wealth that he was entrusted with? There is not a word about Abraham insisting on any guarantees, promises, or even a handshake. On what did Abraham ask Eliezer to take an oath? Not on the money, but on the woman! When it came to the nature of the prospective bride, the character of the person his son would be marrying, Abraham demanded nothing less than a solemn oath.
What an incredible lesson for our own priority system in life. What is of most important to us? What do we truly value? When it comes to our money, everything must be under lock and key, safe and sound, with ironclad securities. Are we as careful with our children? Are we as particular about whom they go out with, where they go and what they get up to?
There was a time when Jewish parents actually took responsibility for their children's social well being and even their matchmaking. OK, times have changed and children don't appreciate parental interference in their romantic endeavors. Even Tevye the Milkman had daughters who insisted on marrying for love. But even if we can't "arrange" things, we can still try to "engineer" an introduction behind the scenes. Or, at the very least, we could take an interest.
Today's young people might be horrified at the thought of a shadchan assisting them to find a marriage partner. Still, surely parents should be talking about marriage to their children when they come of age. Surely, the importance of getting married ought to be conveyed to our kids before they turn 35! And wouldn't it be a good idea for parents to sit down with their kids at some stage to discuss what to look for in a marriage partner?
Abraham was worried about the wrong woman having a bad influence on his son. How much more should we be concerned about our children who are rather less pious than Isaac was. And children might want to take their parents' advice a little more seriously. After all, the experience of history indicates that parents often do see things that children—blinded by "love"--do not.
The "singles" phenomenon is arguably the single biggest social problem in the Jewish world today. People are marrying older or not marrying at all. Often, the biological clock runs out before a family can get off the ground. Too often, desperate people make choices born out of desperation only to regret it in time.
Abraham teaches us that it is our responsibility as parents to ensure that our children mix in the right circles and are not exposed to the wrong influences. Please G‑d, all our children will find suitable marriage partners sooner than later and raise strong Jewish families that we will all be proud of.