By: Dina Coopersmith
The Torah introduces Rivka, the second matriarch, as soon as she is born. Avraham returns with Yitzhak from the Akeida ("binding") episode, pondering the future generations that must come from Yitzhak. Avraham realizes how close Yitzhak came to losing his life and with it, the Jewish future. So Avraham decides the time has come to find Yitzhak a wife.
At that moment, God informs Avraham that his brother Nachor is married and has eight sons, including one named Bethuel. “And Bethuel had a daughter Rivka" (Genesis 22:23). The Torah introduces us to Rivka at the same moment that Avraham is looking for a marriage partner for Yitzhak.
Similarly, the last time the Torah mentions Rivka is also in the context of arranging a marriage, this time for her son, Yaakov:
And Rivka told Yitzhak: “I'm sick of my life because of the Hittite women (which Eisav has married) … let Yaakov go to Haran and take a wife from the daughters of Lavan, my brother." (Genesis 27:46)A look at the meaning of Rivka’s name further connects us to the concept of marriage:
Rivka = "a yoke used to join two animals of the same species together, to fulfill a purpose or work together in the fields." (Hebrew-Hebrew dictionary, Even Shoshan)Sounds like marriage to me!
"…[Bethuel] was evil and tried to prevent Rivka from going with Eliezer, and he tried to poison [Eliezer]." (Rashi, Genesis 25:51)So we see that Rivka comes from a rather despicable family background:
Since God knew that the Jewish people would be spread out among the nations when in exile, and typically one is influenced by his surrounding culture, He wanted our matriarchs and patriarchs to be among evil people and withstand their influence. In this way, their descendants will have the strength to hold onto their religion even in exile, since “the acts of the ancestors are a sign for their descendents." (Tifferet Tzion)Rivka is a beacon of light in an otherwise dark world of deceit. She is chosen to genetically transmit to her descendants, the Jewish nation, the ability to adhere steadfastly to morality, values and truth -- despite whatever antagonistic circumstances.
"If the girl should say to me: 'Drink, and also I will give your camels to drink,' she is the one You have designated for… Yitzhak." (Genesis 24:14)The fulfillment of this condition is carried out by Rivka, with great alacrity:
"And she said: “Drink”… and she hurried and lowered the pitcher… and she rushed and poured the water into the trough, and ran back to the well to draw for all the camels." (Genesis 24:18-20)The energy and devotion that this young girl exhibits is nothing short of amazing -- especially given that this task could have reasonably been delegated to Eliezer, a stranger. Yet she kept lowering her pail, over and over again, until she was satisfied that Eliezer and all 10 camels (!) had quenched their thirst.
She asked, “Who is this man?” [Eliezer] answered, “This is my master.” She fell off the camel, and covered up with a shawl." (Genesis 24:64)This strange reaction is analyzed by the Netziv, a 19th century commentator:
"She fell off the camel” -- out of fear and awe. Although Rivka didn't know exactly what she feared, she asked the servant, “Who is this man who awakens this fear in me?” When she heard he was to be her husband, she took a scarf and covered up out of reverence and shame, as if she realized she is not worthy of being his wife.
From this moment on, intimidation found a permanent place in her heart, regarding her husband. Thus, you will find that [Rivka’s] relationship with Yitzhak, was not like Sarah with Avraham, or Rachel with Yaakov, who felt equal to their husbands and never feared to confront them with complaints or criticism…" (Ha'Amek Davar, Genesis 24:64-65)This first meeting between Rivka and Yitzhak sets the stage for all future interactions. Yitzhak is a man who, having once alighted the altar in anticipation of death, has come away from that experience somewhat removed from the world of the living. In that first glimpse of him, Rivka intuits this level of holiness and other-worldliness -- and concludes that she is an inadequate partner in such a union.
And Yitzhak brought her to his mother Sarah's tent. And he took Rivka to be his wife, and he loved her. And he was comforted after his mother's death. (Genesis 24:67)Yitzhak sees Rivka as a righteous, holy woman who, like his mother, is worthy of the title of Jewish Matriarch, his partner in life and mission. The text emphasizes that after Yitzhak marries her, he then loves her. The more he gets to know her, the more she gains his love and respect. Rivka's feelings of inferiority are her own, not encouraged or shared by Yitzhak.
"Yitzhak prayed to God, opposite his wife." (Genesis 25:21)
"Opposite his wife”: This teaches that Yitzhak and Rivka prayed facing each other, and Yitzhak said: “Almighty, all the children that you give me, let them be from this righteous woman…” (Midrash - Breishit Rabba, 63:5)
Rivka conceived, and the sons struggled within her until she said, “If this is the case, why am I (alive)?” And she went to ask of God. (Genesis 25:22)Rivka’s pregnancy is intensely difficult. This womb, which she yearned for so long to put to good use, turns into a battleground between two children, two nations. The struggle, which will last for generations to come, has already begun.
When Rivka passed by a house of idol worship, Eisav (in utero) would kick and try to get out; when she passed a house of God, Yaakov would kick and get excited. (Midrash - Breishit Rabba 63:6)Rivka must have felt that she was carrying a very mixed kind of child, with extreme forces of good and evil within him. Would this be someone who could build a nation? Where was that evil energy coming from? Surely not from her holy husband!
"Two peoples are in your womb… two nations from your innards will separate, and one nation will be strong on the account of the other, and the elder will serve the younger." (Genesis 25:23)And yet, she chooses not to tell Yitzhak of this prophecy which points to the superiority of the (future) younger son. Instead, she keeps the information to herself, until such time when she must act to preserve its fulfillment.
Yitzhak loved Eisav, for hunting was in his mouth. But Rivka loved Yaakov. (Genesis 25:28)
Rashi: Eisav would trick his father with his mouth, asking him [detailed halachic questions]… and so [Yitzhak] thought he was righteous.Rivka obviously loved both her sons, as did Yitzhak. So why did “Yitzhak love Eisav, and Rivka love Yaakov"? Yitzhak is fooled by Eisav's exterior, his scholarly questions, and imagines him to be the future leader of the family and the Jewish nation. Rivka, on the other hand, with characteristic feminine insight, as well as her first-hand childhood experience with deceit and facade, sees through Eisav. She knows Yaakov to be the rightful heir, with his whole essence -- far beyond the external -- appropriate for the Jewish national destiny and mission.
Yitzhak shook with a great fear and said, “Who, then, hunted and gave me to eat and I blessed him? In fact, let him remain blessed." (Genesis 27:33)Yitzhak concludes: If this trick could happen to me, then I know I may have been fooled my whole life. Therefore, Yaakov should remain blessed, for he is the one deserving of the blessing.
Mother of Two Sons
How painful it must have been for Rivka to have to "steal" the blessing from her husband. Although it is clear to her that Yaakov is to continue the line and mission of the Jewish people, by the command of God, she still equally loves Eisav. Differently from her predecessor, Sarah, she has to create the separation within her own home between two of her own sons, and allow them each to develop into the nations they are meant to be, without wishing either any harm:
Rivka was aware of Eisav's words (that he wanted to kill Yaakov), so she sent and called Yaakov and said, “Your brother, Eisav, wants to kill you… Go run away to my brother, Lavan… until his anger abates… for how can I lose both of you at one time?" (Genesis 27:42-43)Rivka is concerned that one might kill the other, either out of revenge or in self-defense. Either way, were that to happen, she would lose the other as well as the murderer of his brother. As she sends Yaakov away to her family which she rejected so long before, Rivka intends this for the good of both her sons:
Yaakov went to Padan Aram, to Lavan, the brother of Rivka, (who was) the mother of Yaakov and Eisav. (Genesis 28:5)To the end, this matriarch, true to her name, serves as the yoke trying to hold two disparate nations together, to fulfill God’s ultimate purpose.
Rivka said to Yitzhak: “I'm sick of my life because of the Hittite women (Eisav's wives). Let Yaakov travel to Haran… for if Yaakov marries a woman from Canaan, my life would be pointless…" (Genesis 27:46)Spoken like a true mother-in-law! Rivka is protecting Yitzhak from the news that his sons are at war with each other, and that Yaakov has to flee Eisav's wrath for fear of being killed. Instead, in a seemingly selfish manner, she asks Yitzhak to do her the favor of giving Yaakov advice to leave Canaan to find a wife. Then, Yitzhak, as if on his own accord, gives Yaakov his approval and tells him to go to Haran, to Rivka's family, to try his luck there at finding his soulmate.
Next class in this course:
Rachel & Leah - Part 1