Last night, I was reading to the girls the story of how Rebecca married Isaac, and came across a curious detail I have never noticed before... according to certain Jewish sources, apparently, Rebecca was only 3 (!) at the time when Eliezer comes to look for a bride for Isaac. I pointed this out to my husband; could it be true? How is it that a 3-year-old girl is sent away from her home to go with a stranger and marry a stranger? Furthermore, how can a 3-year-old girl be as responsible and mature-acting as Rebecca obviously was in her encounter with Eliezer?
I checked it up online, and according to most sources, her being "3 years old" isn't to be taken literally (there are various, rather complex explanations). Still, she was supposed to be very young, perhaps in her teens, whereas Isaac is closer to 40 (he was 37 at the point of Sarah's death, and did not marry until later). This led to other interesting musings on our part... why hadn't the eligible bachelor Isaac marry earlier? Obviously Isaac and Rebecca were both holy people and belonged together, despite their large age gap. And sometimes we can't follow divine plans with our logic; we use our minds to the best of our ability, yet often it is insufficient.
Then we began to talk of other things, namely, of how his parents and their parents lived in North Africa. They lived in a desert; there were no shops nearby, no school, no doctor; no electricity, no running water; you ate what you grew, and if you were well-off you could supplement your diet with whatever you could contrive to buy in your neighbourhood. The environment was hostile. Jews were a minority, often unable to defend themselves properly, and many girls were carried off by Muslims if they were unmarried.
Since Muslim law prohibits taking a married woman from her husband, many Jewish girls were married very young, as young as 5 or 6 years old. I had a neighbour who told me her grandmother, in Morocco, married at the age of 9 - although there were no marital relations until the girl reached at least puberty. The little girls would be raised after marriage in their husband's house by their in-laws, who would become like parents to them. I can imagine it was heart-wrenching for mothers to part with their little daughters, but the alternative was worse. It was a harsh life, no doubt. Yet people were content with their lot, stuck together, and mostly didn't contemplate divorce, even if problems arose.
With distances so great and transportation so slow, there wasn't much social mingling on a day-to-day basis. In the absence of dating websites, the matchmaking was conducted by parents. My father-in-law mentioned an interesting fact that in the place where they lived, few girls were born, while in the Jewish community of Djerba, Tunisia, there was a surplus of girls - and from there many procured a bride. Still, it was far, so every girl was precious, and often matches were made while babes were still in the womb.
Daily life was a challenge. Without electricity, there were no refrigerators, and in the heat food would spoil very quickly. If meat was to be prepared, an animal had to be butchered, cleaned and cooked with utmost speed, to avoid spoilage. Nights were dark and cold. Often, husbands had to leave their families for months to provide for them.
This just got me thinking, once again, how spoiled we all are. In the place where we live, many make their homes in caravans (trailers), which are tiny and cramped; the heat/cold isolation is lousy. Several families of 6 people live on 46 square meters. And yet they all have running water and electricity, they need only to drive 10 minutes to see a doctor or buy food or clothes, they have cellular phones and internet. When a woman is pregnant she doesn't have to prepare for a 50% chance of losing her baby. As for me, perhaps I don't have a driver's license so I don't drive out and about, but I know that in an emergency I can pick up the phone and in a few seconds I will be talking to my husband, who comes home every day. My refrigerator and pantry are stocked with a surplus of food that can keep for months, and I have air conditioning and heaters.
Truly, if we reflect on how people lived in the not-so-distant past, and how some still live in parts of the world today, we have nothing left to do but count our blessings. Yet so often, we are dissatisfied. My mother-in-law, an excellent woman with a lot of down-to-earth sense, said to me not long ago, "it's all these riches that are spoiling people. Everyone has a washing machine." Are you smiling? Perhaps in our time, it sounds ridiculous to equate owning a washing machine with being rich, but it does give us some perspective.