Chaye Sarah: Do men want their wives to be their mothers? The case of Isaac and
I’m taking a
risk tonight by speaking about a potentially controversial and divisive topic.
Race Relations? The Middle East? Immigration? None of these I am relieved to
say. Instead my topic, based upon the Torah portion Haye Sarah, is something
deeper and more perplexing in the annals of human events. Do men want their
wives to be in part like their mothers?
portion describes the directives that the aging Patriarch Abraham hands down to
his chief of staff Eliezer to find a wife for his son Isaac. To cut to the
chase Eliezer travels back to Padan Aram-the old country- on this journey to
find the perfect match for his Patriarch’s cherished son. He meets up at a well
with the lovely young maiden Rebecca and believes that she is the exact one, the
B’shert, for Isaac. After negotiations with Rebecca’s family, Rebecca decides
to accept the invitation to be Isaac’s wife. Rebecca journeys back with Eliezer
to meet him and to assume her duties as matriarch of the Abrahamic clan.
then says, “And Rebecca lifted up her eyes and when she saw Isaac, she lighted
off the camel. She had said to the servant, ‘what man is this who walks in the
field to meet us?’
And the servant had said, “It is my master”;
therefore she took a veil and covered herself.
And the servant told Isaac all things that he had done. And Isaac brought her to his mother Sarah’s
tent, and took Rebecca, and she became his wife; and he loved her; and Isaac
was comforted after his mother’s death” (Genesis 24:61-67).
text intimate that his new wife was replacing his mother? How does he see his
new wife? Is she his mate or a surrogate for his mother? Or was her role
two-fold? Was he ready for a wife, a life partner? Or did he seek out a woman
who would care for him in not too different a way than his mother had done do
for him since his youth? I have heard the old expression, “I want a girl that’s
just like the girl that married dear old dad?” Really? Is that what men are
really searching for, that is, a woman will play both roles that of the intimate
as well as the caretaker like a mother and fulfill the same kinds of functions
that his mother performed for him? Is this typical or atypical of what most men
secretly if not unconsciously want in the role of the wife?
In one Midrash
(Genesis Rabbah) based upon chapter 24:67, “Isaac brought her into his mother’s
tent and behold she was like his mother Sarah.” In different ways the sages
give examples of how Sarah was able to have the divine cloud of glory over her tent, her doors were
open to wayfarers, the dough she used to bake was blessed by god, and a light
was always on in her tent from one Sabbath to the next. All these things
stopped after Sarah died and they all miraculously returned as soon as Rebecca
assumed her place in her deceased mother in-law’s tent. Finally, the Midrash
concludes by saying that when Isaac saw all these blessings return in his
mother’s tent with Rebecca he knew that “she was like his mother Sarah”
opens even more questions not just about how men in those times believed their
spouses were supposed to be like their mothers but it also raises the question
for men today who are searching for a wife. Has anything changed after all
these millennium? I have heard countless times women today say jokingly that
their husbands are kids and that they feel they have to be the parent to the
men as they do to their children. Men usually roll their eyes and shrug their
shoulders symbolizing a kind of half hearted acknowledgment of the truth about
this role their wives play.
Today we are
living in an age when marriage in the secular world represents new expectations
about how couples care for each other. Of course the traditional kind of role
still exists when the man is the provider and the woman cares for him and his
children as primary care parent. We know, on the other hand, the division of
labor has changed radically over the last few decades as men and women have
begun to work at their jobs and split the duties of nurturing each other and
economics have changed the way we live today with most couples working. My
question is that at the end of the day do women still hold onto the primary
care role for their spouse and children? Is it a matter of biology or social
conditioning? Sometimes men have a hard time understanding their own
expectations regarding women being their life partners versus the role of
caretaker to them and to the family. Women are well aware of this dilemma and
are quick to tell me that they absolutely do not want to be seen as his mother
nor want to replace her even though in many cases they end up in that role.
tell me, for example, that they believe men have a hard time living on their
own especially if their wives pass away. Thus they need a woman to take care of
them! One receives the impression that Isaac was lost when Sarah died. Maybe
that is another reason why it is written in the early chapters of Genesis,”
that it Is not good for a man to be alone.” Other patriarchs like Jacob were
blessed with two wives. Even after Sarah died, the Torah tells us that Abraham
married Keturah and had many children with her.
the younger generation is changing in terms of roles, work responsibilities and
parenting. More and more we see that whether the reasons stem from economic
demands or a greater consciousness about how women and men relate to each other
that men and women are reevaluating and adapting to new paradigms for emotional
support. Does that mean that men will become more independent of their need for
a woman’s nurturing as it will be that women will be less dependent on a man to
take care of her in the traditional sense of the term? Will the future Jewish
family be better off in the long run?
is here now. Clearly Isaac goes on to have children with Rebecca. Yet one
receives the impression that Isaac never became the leaders his father or his
son would be. We cannot conclude it had anything to do with never quite
recovering from his mother Sarah’s death. He was, however, able to move forward
and make a life for himself and his family.
living in a new age when many different models for woman and men taking care of
each other abound. Men are challenged today to figure out what they want and
what they need from a partner. How they react to changing realities and to
history will make all the difference between successful and troubled relationships
in the future.