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Camels Can’t Buy Me Love

The Nahor Approach to Wealth and Women

Liel Leibovitz
November 21, 2008

One of the more charming aspects of the recent financial meltdown is the strong correlation, now clearly exposed, between the Dow and divorce.

Having barely had a chance to explore the reasons for and consequences of the catastrophe, our earnest journalists turned their attention away from the bland boardrooms of Wall Street and towards the living rooms and bedrooms of the Upper East Side, where, they dutifully reported, all was not well.

“Divorce Takes the Economy Into Account,” read one headline in The New York Times, suggesting that a fair share of the city’s nuptials were following the stock market into hell because, like the market itself, they were never based on much more than a simple calculation of profit and loss. Divorce lawyers regaled reporters with tale after tale of loveless marriages held together by sterling stock portfolios, of yearned-for separations awaiting signs from Ben Bernanke, of couples plotting the dissolutions of their marriages while keeping one eye forever trained on CNBC. Not to be outdone, Time Magazine summed it all up nicely, making sure it rhymed: “Recession and divorce… go together like carriage and horse.”

To us hopeless romantics, the thought that true love may be diluted by dollars and cents is unbearable. But the Bible, as it so often does, saw it all coming, and this week it delivers a much-needed bit of relationship advice: money matters.

Suze Orman couldn’t have said it better herself. Had the perky priestess of personal finance been around back in the day, she and Abraham would have likely had a lovely chat; like Suze, Abe knew that every solid relationship should be based first and foremost on a sturdy balance sheet and only then on fickle emotions.

It is not coincidence, perhaps, that, this week, the Bible presents us with its first-ever account of a real estate transaction”Abraham purchasing the field in Machpelah as a final resting place for Sarah and himself”followed closely by the first-ever account of a shidduch, importing Rebecca as Isaac’s bride. Abraham has his priorities straight: first land, then love.

When he sends Eliezer, his most trusted servant, to look for a bride in the happening town of Nahor, he makes sure the man has camels, silver and gold and garments, delicacies for her brother and gifts for her mom. And Eliezer himself is a savvy pitchman: of all of his master’s many virtues (the father of much of humanity? God’s BFF?), he describes Abraham to the potential bride’s family much like a CEO might present a company to its annual shareholders’ meeting: “And the Lord blessed my master exceedingly,” boasts Eliezer, “and he became great, and He gave him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, man servants and maid servants, camels and donkeys.” With a shtick like that, what Nahorian mother wouldn’t kvell?!?

For that matter, Abraham’s insistence on a Nahorian maiden is another brilliant stroke of level-headedness: there are, of course, many lovely ladies in Canaan, but the Old Man knew just how much trouble these cross-cultural marriages can be. The last thing he wanted was foreigners for in-laws, a bit ironic considering the fact that he himself was the first foreigner in history, the first man on record to leave his homeland and settle in a strange land. When it comes to his son, however, Abraham wants the bride to be a daughter of his native Nahor, Becky from the block.

By the time the lovely lady rides into town, and catches Isaac’s eye with her great beauty, business has been taken care of. Money was exchanged, a financial future secured, cultural compatibility guaranteed. No wonder, then, that it takes the book a mere few lines to report that Isaac married Rebecca and loved her. It’s that simple. Unlike those poor saps in Lehman Brothers and their spouses, the two kids in Canaan had little to worry about.

Herein the column ends, not with bang but with a whimper. As much as Abraham’s wisdom appeals, and as much as our patriarch could teach us about entering into relationships not with the deafening roar of romance but with the measured tones of any reasonable transaction, I cannot, in good faith, agree. The mind applauds Abe’s practicality, and yet the heart decries the coolness of it all.

Devoid of inspiration, then, I searched elsewhere for thoughts about love and marriage. And found ‘em in the most obvious of sources: Britney. The recent divorcee, who appears naked in her new music video, managed this bit of romantic rumination in a recent interview with MTV.

“I think I married for all the wrong reasons,” said Ms. Spears. “Instead of following my heart and, like, doing something that made me really happy…I just did it because…for just, like, the idea of everything.”

Forget about camels or 401(k)s, bracelets or municipal bonds. When it comes to love, I’m with the old Britney: it’s all about the idea of everything.

Liel Leibovitz is the author, most recently, of Lili Marlene: The Soliders’ Song of World War II. To put it mildly, he lacks the temperament for the rabbinate.

Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.