Midreshet Amit


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Parshat Chayei Sarah

By: Reb Norman Meskin

24:67 Isaac brought [the girl] into his mother Sarah's tent and he married Rebecca. She became his wife and he loved her. Isaac was then consoled for the loss of his mother.

This is the last of the astounding total of 67 verses that the Torah uses to describe Eliezer’s search for a proper mate for Yitzchak. Given that this episode is triggered by Sarah’s death, if one were to only see this verse – the Epilogue of the story, so to speak – one would likely conclude that the objective of this lengthy exercise was really to find a replacement for Sarah.

I believe that to be true, but I believe that there is another aspect to this story that should further enhance our appreciation of Rivkah.

There is an amazing similarity between the manner in which Rivkah greeted and cared for her guest – Eliezer – and the way that Avraham greeted and cared for his guests – the three angels. Below you will find the relevant verses from both episodes. I have taken the liberty to highlight the most striking comparisons between the two narratives.

Parshat Vayeira

18:1 God appeared to [Abraham] in the Plains of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the hottest part of the day.
18:2 [Abraham] lifted his eyes and he saw three strangers standing a short distance from him. When he saw [them] from the entrance of his tent, he ran to greet them, bowing down to the ground.
18:3 He said, 'Sir, if you would, do not go on without stopping by me.
18:4 Let some water be brought, and wash your feet. Rest under the tree.
18:5 I will get a morsel of bread for you to refresh yourselves. Then you can continue on your way. After all, you are passing by my house.'
18:6 Abraham rushed to Sarah's tent and said, 'Hurry! Three measures of the finest flour! Knead it and make rolls.'
18:7 Abraham ran to the cattle, and chose a tender, choice calf. He gave it to a young man who rushed to prepare it.

Parshat Chayei Sara

24:15 He had not yet finished speaking, when Rebecca appeared. She had been born to Betuel, the son of Milchah, the wife of Abraham's brother Nachor. Her jug was on her shoulder.
24:16 The girl was extremely good-looking, [and] she was a virgin untouched by any man. The girl went down, filled her jug, and then came up again.
24:17 The servant ran toward her. 'If you would, let me sip a little water from your jug,' he said.
24:18 'Drink, Sir,' she replied. She quickly lowered her jug to her hand and gave him a drink.
24:19 When he had finished drinking, she said, 'Let me draw water for your camels, so they can [also] drink their fill.'
24:20 She quickly emptied her jug into the trough and ran to the well again to draw water. She drew water for all his camels.

In our tradition, Avraham Avinu personifies the “middah” of chessed. He set the standard for all of us. Interestingly, one of the texts that is cited to provide support for this notion is the one cited above that describes Avraham’s reaction to his (angelic) visitors: How he could not do enough and how he could not do it fast enough!

In fact, many commentators suggest that it is this “middah” of chessed that really explains why Hashem chose Avraham to be the progenitor of the Jewish People.

It is fascinating, therefore, to see how the Torah’s description of Rivkah’s reaction to her guest – Eliezer – is identical in so many ways to that of Avraham (See the citation above from this week’s parsha). She also could not do enough and could not do it fast enough!

Based on this similarity, I would like to suggest that Rivkah, in some fashion, was the replacement for both Sarah, who had already passed away, and for Avraham who was yet to pass away.

Chazal, in the Midrash, suggest that Yitzchak never truly got over the incident of the Akeida – that he was changed irrevocably by it – that he, so to speak, ascended to heaven as a purely spiritual being at that time and that, somehow, he never fully returned to the mundane life that occupies human beings on this earth.

It is difficult to understand precisely what Chazal had in mind with this metaphor, but one thing is clear: This notion clearly paves the way for the need for his wife to embody the best “middot” of both his mother and father – for he was no longer capable of translating their message to future generations.

So, yes, Rivka replaced Sarah in the tent, but she also replaced Avraham outside the tent.

Perhaps the Torah’s message is that, not only is it appropriate to say that BEHIND EVERY GREAT MAN IS A GREAT WOMAN, but that it is equally correct to say that BEHIND EVERY GREAT WOMAN IS A GREAT MAN!