The Desire for Marriage
And some Associated Halachot
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The Torah portion of Chayei Sarah is (mostly) about the marriage of Rivkah and Yitzchak. We read that after Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, found Rivkah to be a perfect wife for Yitzchak, he brought her back to Israel. Yitzchak met her on the way and after hearing from Eliezer how he had found her “Yitzchak brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rivkah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. And Yitzchak was comforted for [the loss of] his mother (Gen. 24:67).”
Several commentaries (Pardes Yosef and others, see below) wonder how it is possible that Yitzchak and Rivkah got married immediately since the halacha states that when a woman agrees to marry someone she must count seven clean days and then go to the Mikvah before she may marry (Y.D. 192:1 based on Niddah 66a). Although this law was enacted in the Talmudic era and was certainly not mandatory for Yitzchak and Rivkah, it is known that the Patriarches observed the Torah and Rabbinic laws even though these laws were not yet given (see Yoma 28b and the final Mishnah in Kiddushin). As such, we need to understand why Yitzchak and Rivkah did not wait seven days as explained above.
In order to understand this question let us discuss this halacha and its source.
A Marriage Request
The Talmud says (Niddah 66a) אמר רבא תבעוה לינשא ונתפייסה צריכה שתשב שבעה נקיים – “Rava says if one asked for a woman’s hand in marriage and she accepted, she must wait seven clean days (and go to the mikvah).” Rashi explains that the sages feared that as a result of the desire for the husband the woman may experience a (small) menstrual flow.
The Talmud goes on to say that this law even applies to a girl who gets married before the age of 12 (as was often customary in ancient times) and has not yet begun to menstruate. This law applies even if a woman examines herself at the time of the proposal and finds that she has not had any flow. As the sages feared that there may have been a small drop that went unnoticed.
It is noteworthy that, for a kallah who is an adult and has already begun to have monthly periods, this halacha does not have much relevance, since she will have to count seven clean days and go to the mikvah for her regular period in any case (see Torat Hashalmim 3 on Y.D. ibid). (But see below that there are some cases where this halacha has practical consequences.)
As far as the marriage of Yitzchak and Rivkah, it seems that Rivkah already agreed to the marriage while in Charan. As the verse (58) says, “And they summoned Rivkah, and they said to her, ‘Will you go with this man (Eliezer)?’ And she said, ‘I will go.’” As such, one can suggest that seven days passed while Eliezer was travelling with Rivkah on the way back to the Holy Land.
There are Midrashim that state however that the marriage took place sooner.
473 miles in 3 Hours
The Targum Yonatan (on verse 61) writes “And Rivkah arose, and her maidens, and they rode upon the camels, and went with the man. And the servant took Rivkah with him and traveled. And as the way was shortened for him on his journey to Padan Aram, so was it shortened for him on his return. So that in one day he went, and in one day he returned.”
The Pirkei DeRabi Eliezer explains that G-d did this miracle so that Rivkah would not have to travel with Eleizer at night during which time the laws of Yichud (seclusion between members of opposite genders who are not married to each other) are more strict. (See Y.D. 192:4 in the Rama.)
In fact, the entire journey took them merely three hours. This can be contrasted with the time that it should take 179 hours (according to Google maps) under normal circumstances. According to the plain reading of the verse Yitzchak married Rivkah immediately after meeting her. As such, we can return to the question – why did Yitzchak not wait for Rivkah to count seven clean days before marrying her?
An Erev Sukkot Wedding
As a side point, some say (Hogei Sha’ashu’ot by Rabbi Yosef Moshe Adler, Lakewood 5776 based on various sources) that this entire story took place between Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Specifically, Eliezer traveled to Charan on the 13th of Tishrei (Rivkah’s third birthday) and negotiated the marriage on that same night. The next morning, on the 14th of Tishrei (Erev Sukkot, he traveled back with her and Yitzchak proceeded to marry her before nightfall.
Seeing the Husband for the First Time
The Meshech Chochma adds that, even if we understand that the trip from Charan took many days, there is still reason for Rivkah to wait seven days before marriage – after arriving and seeing Yitzchak. As some say that the Kallah must count seven clean days after seeing her future husband for the first time even if she had already consented to the marriage earlier – without seeing him. This is because the desire caused by seeing him for the first time can trigger another menstrual flow. (This opinion is that of the questioner in the Responsa of the Chatam Sofer in Y.D. 184. Although the Chatam Sofer rules that it is not necessary for her to count another seven clean days, he writes that one who is strict should receive a blessing.)
The Meshech Chochma explains that a careful reading of the verse will answer this question. The verse says וַיְבִאֶ֣הָ יִצְחָ֗ק הָאֹ֙הֱלָה֙ שָׂרָ֣ה אִמּ֔וֹ וַיִּקַּ֧ח אֶת־רִבְקָ֛ה וַתְּהִי־ל֥וֹ לְאִשָּׁ֖ה וַיֶּאֱהָבֶ֑הָ “Yitzchak brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rivkah as his wife and he loved her.” The verse can be understood to be saying that first Yitzchak took Rivkah into his tent and only (seven days) later did he take her for a wife (i.e., consummate the marriage).
(See the Raavan, quoted in Dagul MeRevevah on Y.D. 192, that it is permissible to marry a woman who has not yet counted seven days after the marriage request was initiated, as long as one does not consummate the marriage until after that time.)
Permissibility of Yichud
This matter still needs further examination since the halacha states that in a case where a couple got married before the kallah counted seven clean days and went to the mikvah, the couple may not be alone together. As the Shulchan Aruch states (192:4), עבר וכנסה תוך זמן זה וכן חתן שפירסה כלתו נדה קודם שבא עליה לא יתייחד עמה אלא הוא ישן בין האנשים והיא ישנה בין הנשים – “If he transgressed and married her during this time and so too, if a Kallah became a Niddah before having relations with her husband, he may not be alone with her. Rather he must sleep with the men and she must sleep with the women.”
Although, under normal circumstances a married couple may be alone together even when the wife is a Niddah, this only applies after they had at least one relationship. In a case where they did not, however, because their desire for each other is stronger, the laws of Yichud apply (Shach 9 on ibid). As such, one can ask how Yitzchak could have brought Rivkah into his tent (and presumably be alone with her) when she had not yet gone to the Mikvah?
An Exemption for a Torah Scholar
This can be explained according to the Ramabam who writes (Issurei Bi’ah 10:11)“Every woman who consents when asked to marry should not marry until she counts [seven days] and immerses herself. If she marries a Torah scholar, she may marry immediately and then count after marriage and immerse. The rationale is that a Torah scholar will know that she is forbidden and observe the restriction. He will not approach her until she immerses.”
The Maggid Mishnah explains that a Torah scholar may be alone (yichud) with his new wife if she is “only” a Niddah as a result of the presumed flow due to her desire for marriage. Whereas in a case that a kallah is a niddah as a result of her regular menstrual cycle even a chattan who is a Torah scholar may not be alone with her. (But see Kessef Mishnah.)
Basis for the Rambam
The ruling of the Rambam is based on the Talmud (Yevamot 37b) which says that Rav and Rav Nachman would marry wives for short periods of time when they were traveling. But that they would not consummate these marriages (according to one explanation) since the required seven days had not passed. The Talmud explains that the fact that they would be alone with them (yichud) was sufficient for the rabbis to be saved from forbidden thoughts about other women since they had “bread in the basket.” I.e., since they had a wife who would become permissible to them in the near future (if they would choose to remain in that town).
Thus, since Yitzchak was a Torah scholar, he was allowed to be alone with Rivkah even before she counted her seven clean days and went to the mikvah (Hogei Sha’ashu’ot page 171).
As mentioned earlier, when an adult woman gets married nowadays she will need to go to the mikvah regardless of the halacha that a kallah has a desire for her husband. Nevertheless there are several practical applications of this halacha that are relevant today.
Here are some examples of these (based on Y.D. 192 and commentaries).
- If an older (post menopausal) woman gets remarried, she must count seven clean days and go to mikvah even if she went to the mikvah at some point after her final period (while she was married to her previous husband).
- The above would apply even if she got divorced and is now remarrying her ex-husband. Although they may have been married for many years, there is a new desire for him in the case of a new marriage.
- The same is true if a couple got divorced while the wife was pregnant. If they wish to remarry while the (ex) wife is still pregnant, she must count seven days and go to the mikvah. As even a woman who does not expect regular periods (like a pregnant or post menopausal woman) can still have the flow that is associated with the desire for a new husband.
- If a wedding is called off at the last minute – after the kallah already went to the mikvah and then the couple made up and decided to get married after all, the kallah must, once again, count seven days and go to the mikvah. This is because there is a renewed desire when the decision was reached to go ahead with the wedding.
May We soon experience the Wedding of the Jewish People and Hashem with the coming of Moshiach!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Chodesh Tov!