Shabbat Parashat Chayei Sarah| 5764
Love at Second or Third Sight
The Torah stresses not only Eliezer’s meeting of Rivka at the well, but also her first encounter with Yitzchak. Midrash Tanchuma (Shemot 10) even lists the latter encounter as an example of our forefathers’ meeting their spouse by a well (B’er Lachai Ro’i). What can be learned from this ostensibly insignificant encounter?
How did Yitzchak and Rivka react at “first sight”? Yitzchak saw camels coming (Bereishit 24: 63); Rivka saw Yitzchak. She was so taken by his aura of kedusha that she got off her camel and asked about him (despite possible embarrassment that a bride was inquiring about some man on the road) (ibid.: 64-5). Yitzchak did not react directly to her, but waited to hear Eliezer’s stories which would prove the Divine hand in the making of the match. Why the lack of symmetry?
Rivka was well aware that she had spiritual ground to make up, having grown up with Betuel and Lavan, not with Avraham and Sarah. Her first look at Yitzchak left her with no illusions that she could already boast the kind of aura of kedusha that she couldn’t help but notice from a distance. In the meantime, Yitzchak had not noticed a holy woman who, we are told, was the spitting image of his mother (Meam Loez, from Zohar). To the contrary, she fit in among the servants and camels. Sensing the disparity, Rivka covered her face, not only out of tzniut, but because she wasn’t yet ready to be revealed to him. But she was the right wife for Yitzchak, as Eliezer’s stories of miracles proved.
The first thing that Yitzchak did with Rivka was to bring her into Sarah’s tent. This step was not a practical or sentimental one, but provided a training ground. “Okay, new bride, you are being thrown into the site where the highest spiritual level of any woman was reached, the miraculous tent of Sarah. Sink or swim.” She swam. As Rashi relates, miracles that had been dormant since Sarah’s death returned. She even resembled her late mother-in-law. “Ha’ohelah Sarah imo – to the tent, Sarah his mother” (Bereishit 24:67). Rashi is careful in his language, that when she came to the tent, Rivka became like Sarah. Previously she was not like Sarah. Rivka could now reveal her face without embarrassment.
At this point, Yitzchak took Rivka for a wife with kiddushin and nisuin (Torah Shleima, 247) and loved her. But only later does it say that he was consoled after his mother’s death. The Alshich points out that it was because, at first, she just brought back miracles which Sarah had brought down to the world in her tent. Time would pass before she would show Yitzchak that she had become a matriarch in her own right, and was very much her husband’s and her mother-in-law’s equal.
The main legacy of both Yitzchak and Rivka was to carry on the great innovations of Avraham and Sarah and prepare the family for emergence as the chosen nation. The basic step was to immerse themselves in the “tent,” the legacy of their predecessors. But in addition, both were able to take their own personal traits and prove themselves as patriarch and matriarch in their own right.
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