It has become customary – almost a rite of passage – for a bride and groom to find fault with their in-laws for any number of perceived “grievances” that they claim are perpetrated against them. However, no matter how much one might want to complain about his shver or shvigger (father-in-law or mother-in-law), all will agree that no one had a more difficult time with his father-in-law than Yaakov Avinu had with Lavan! From the moment they met on the fateful day that Yaakov saw Rachel at the well, Lavan never ceased to take advantage of the pure and innocent soul that was Yaakov Avinu. He tricked him into working many extra years for him; he changed his wages on a number of occasions. He even switched his wives, forcing Yaakov to marry both of Lavan’s daughters. Lavan, the evil father-in-law, the one who attempted to “uproot everything,” serves as a lesson to us all to be wary and alert to those who wish to do us harm.
Before the great Rav Yonasan Eibschutz zt”l became renowned as a brilliant scholar, ultimately rising to the post of chief rabbi of the “three communities” – Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbek – he was already famous as a child prodigy due to his wisdom and wit. There are many legends recounted – some true, some unknown – of his brilliance and wisdom far beyond his years. His cleverness once got him in trouble, however, as retold in the following anecdote: When young Yonasan reached marriageable age (at the turn of the 18th century, a 15-year-old was considered old enough), he was suggested for the daughter of Rav Shamshon Wertheimer zt”l, a learned Torah scholar, a leading rabbi in Austria, Hungary, and Moravia, and wealthy financier to the court of Austrian Emperor Leopold I.
As is customary, Rav Shamshon arranged to meet with the young man in order to familiarize himself with him and test his Talmudic ability. It just so happened that he was scheduled to have business interests in Prague, and taking advantage of the opportunity, he made up to meet Yonasan – who was residing in Prague then – informally during his stay. When the two did meet, the young prospective groom displayed a breathtaking wealth of knowledge, sparkling wit, and deep intelligence, which so impressed Rav Shamshon, that he agreed to the match immediately. He asked for a few days to travel home and obtain the consent of his wife and daughter before “closing the deal.”
Before leaving for home the following morning, Rav Shamshon asked Yonasan if he can talk to him once more. “I know we spoke already, but I’d like to test you one more time,” said Rav Shamshon.
The young genius nodded amiably but then said, “In that case I would like to test you, as well.”
Rav Shamshon’s eyes widened in disbelief at the boy’s impudence. “What do you mean?” he asked impatiently.
“Well,” replied the youth with a smile, “the reason why a bachur is tested before his engagement is to fulfill the words of Chazal that a person should not give his daughter to marry an ignoramus. The test, therefore, is to determine whether or not the proposed chasan is learned or not. Yet, in the very same Gemara, in Maseches P’sachim, Chazal tell us that a person should sell everything he owns to marry the daughter of a Torah scholar. Therefore, it would seem that the prospective chasan ought to test the father of the proposed girl to see what he’s like.” Rav Shamshon was floored!
“However,” the young man quickly continued, “we rely on the premise that the girl’s father has already been tested by his father-in-law before his own engagement, and on the basis of the first test, he can be considered a talmid chacham.”
“Okay, so why would you want to test me,” inquired Rav Shamshon, “if I was already tested once before?”
Young Yonasan Eibschutz’s eyes sparkled. “Since you want to test me a second time,” he replied, “I conclude that you don’t rely fully on the first test. If so, why should I rely on the first test you were given before your engagement? I need to test you a second time to make sure your daughter is indeed a bas talmid chacham!”
P.S. It didn’t work out!