Friday, December 24, 2004

Toldos 5765: The Marriage of Rivka and Yitzchak

By all accounts, the marriage between Avraham and Sarah was a marriage of equals. The medieval commentator Rashi teaches that Avraham and Sarah spent time teaching others to have faith in G-d. At that time in history, belief in One Supreme G-d was a novel, and not particularly popular, idea. Rashi teaches that Avraham converted the men and Sarah converted the women. And although G-d spoke to Avraham numerous times, Sarah was far from being spiritually ineffectual herself. In fact, she had a level of spiritual insight that, at times, exceeded Avraham’s.

If Avraham and Sarah were essentially peers, the workings of the marriage of Rivka (Rebecca) and Yitzchak (Isaac) were much subtler and harder to understand. To begin with, Yitzchak was much older. Rivka had just been born when Yitzchak survived the Akeidah (“Binding of Isaac”) at age 37. There is one opinion that Yitzchak was 40 and Rivka was just three when they married.

In addition, Yitzchak was the son of Sarah and Avraham, two wholly righteous people. In contrast, though she herself remained untainted, Rivka grew up in a household and in a society where evil was the norm. Her brother Lavan was the famous Biblical swindler. In today’s terms, Yitzchak was “sheltered” and Rivka was “worldly”.

Another clue about the complexity of their marriage is the striking paucity of dialogue between Rivka and Yitzchak, as recorded in the Torah. In fact, there is only one line that passed between them. “Rebecca said to Isaac, ‘I am disgusted with my life on account of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth like these, of the daughters of the land, what is life to me?’” (Genesis 27:46) In this verse, Rivka bemoaned the fact that their son Eisav (Esau) married women from among the locals and expressed anguish over the possibility that Yaakov (Jacob) might do the same if they did not send him away.

Besides their dissimilar ages, backgrounds and the seeming lack of verbal communication between them, Yitzchak is among the most enigmatic characters in the Torah. He takes few decisive actions and is what we would today call reactive rather than proactive. Rivka, by contrast, was an active player in her life and in her marriage. Most of what the Torah relates about the events in the marriage of Rivka and Yitzchak is told through the actions of Rivka.

In his new book, Women In The Bible, Rav Shlomo Aviner, the Chief Rabbi of Beit El, Israel, offers us insight into the marriage of Rivka and Yitzchak. Rav Aviner teaches that Yitzchak existed on a plane that was above the mundane in this world. He was capable of seeing only those things that were eternal.

The Sages say that Rivka’s role was to serve as intermediary between Yitzchak and G-d. Imagine a Person of Great Achievement who excels at one specific thing. Such a person would benefit from having a personal assistant to handle the mundane, temporal aspects of life, freeing the Person of Great Achievement to achieve in one arena. Rivka was like the personal assistant to Yizchak’s Person of Great Achievement. Neither could be said to be superior because it took the combination of both of their skills to accomplish what neither could do alone.

Yitzchak’s character was primarily hidden and Rivka was the more overt player throughout their lifetimes. However, together they made a very strong union. So much so that Rav Aviner says that their unique relationship was the tikkun, was the spiritual rectification, for one of the curses that G-d pronounced upon Chava (Eve).

Rav Aviner says, “The appearance of Isaac and Rebecca rectified the damage done by Adam and Eve, which had punished Eve: And he will rule over you (Genesis 3:16). From the beginning of the world until this very day, the fact is that men dominate women, sometimes with a cruel hand. The strength of Isaac and Rebecca remedied this situation. Isaac in no way dominated Rebecca. Since childhood, it was impossible to dominate her. Even her father and brother could not control her.”

From Rivka we learn that there is not just one correct lifestyle choice for every Jewish woman. Each of us has our own manner of serving G-d. We do not all need to be the same.


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