Parshas Vayeitzei (5774)
There is a verse in this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Vayeitzei, which holds within it a great life lesson that I would like to share with you.
The Torah relates that our forefather Jacob met Rachel and they decided to marry. However, Rachel’s father Lavan told Jacob that he would have to work for him for seven years before he could have Rachel’s hand in marriage.
The Torah then tells us the following: “So Jacob worked seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him a few days because of his love for her” (Genesis 29:20).
This statement boggles the mind. After all, human nature is that if we have to wait even a few days for someone or something that we truly love and crave, it feels like seven years, yet for Jacob it’s the opposite. Seven years are like a few days. It is almost as if Jacob was happy about having to wait that long before marrying Rachel.
How can we understand Jacob’s seemingly unnatural reaction to Lavan’s stipulation, and what lesson can we learn from it?
I once read a brilliant insight about dating and marriage in a book called SpeedDating: A Timesaving Guide to Finding Your Lifelong Love by Yaacov and Sue Deyo (HarperCollins Publishers), which I believe will help explain Jacob’s strange response:
The Deyos write that most people err when it comes to dating and searching for a marriage partner. They mistakenly think that they are only “dating” when they are actually sitting face to face across from another person at a restaurant or some other dating hotspot. And they prepare themselves for the date by taking a shower, brushing their teeth, putting on their best outfit, and generally making sure that they present themselves really well in front of that person.
What they fail to realize is that the actual date is only one part of the dating process, and that the bulk of the dating is done outside of the time that the couple spends together face to face.
To help clarify this idea, the authors use the analogy of a business model. To effectively sell its products and remain competitive on the open market, a company needs to do two things. It needs to do product marketing, i.e. it needs to present its products to the consumers really well, in a way that will attract them and catch their attention, making them want to buy the products.
Companies pay millions of dollars to professional marketers who know how to design a cereal box with just the right colors and contain just the right prizes and place it on just the right shelf in the supermarket to make your preschooler annoy you to death until you purchase it for him.
But that’s not enough. The company also needs to do product development, i.e. it needs to constantly research and test its products to learn how make them better tasting, more nutritious, healthier, and generally more marketable. This tedious work is typically done by people wearing white coats in some laboratory in the back of one of the company’s buildings. However, it is very important work, as the company needs to remain competitive and on top of its game if it is to succeed, so it must constantly develop its products to make them the best they can be.
When you think about it, dating successfully for marriage involves a similar process. When we go out on a date to a restaurant, we are essentially “marketing our product”. We want to make sure that we look good and say the right things so that we attract the attention of our date, the ready “consumer”.
But we tend to neglect the other more important part of the dating process, our “product development”. Even when we are not on an actual date, we need to constantly work on ourselves to make ourselves better, more sensitive, kinder people, so that by the time we walk down that aisle, we will be as ready as we can be for marriage.
This means that even if we find ourselves home alone on a Saturday night with no date to speak of, we can still be “dating” if we spend our time alone developing our product and trying to improve ourselves so that by the time we find the right person, we will have become the right person.
This second part of dating may not be as much fun as a real date, but it is absolutely critical if we want not just to get married but to stay married.
I believe this is why our forefather Jacob was able to handle and even be happy with having to wait seven years before marrying Rachel, the woman of his dreams.
You see, Jacob knew and understood well the secret of successful dating. When he realized that he would have to wait seven years until he could date and marry Rachel, instead of lamenting the fact that he would have to be alone “without a date” for so long, he decided to continue dating her by developing his product and learning how to be the best husband and father he could be. This way, by the time the seven years were over and he could finally be with Rachel, Jacob would be that much more sensitive and kind and mature – and fully ready for marriage.
This powerful lesson from the story of Jacob and Rachel goes way beyond dating and marriage. In life in general we often find ourselves waiting for things to happen – such as a first baby, or a first job, etc. – but it doesn’t always work out the way we want.
We would be wise to follow Jacob’s lead and use that waiting time to work on and develop our product so that by the time that baby or job arrives we will ready for it the way we need to be.