PARSHAT HAYEI SARA
ISAAC AND REBECCA
“And Isaac brought her to his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebecca, and she became his wife, and he loved her, and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” (Genesis 24:67)
Here is a message I wrote over ten years ago on Isaac and Rebecca.
One of my favorite verses in Genesis occurs towards the end of this portion. It describes the marriage of the second Patriarch Isaac and his arranged bride Rebecca. There is something very moving about this brief passage. In the previous verses, Isaac is in the field meditating (the Rabbis said he was praying mincha, the afternoon service). Rebecca arrives on her camel. When she sees Isaac she falls off the camel. The verse then goes on to describe four steps – 1) Rebecca moves into Sarah’s tent; 2) Isaac marries Rebecca; 3) Isaac falls in love with Rebecca; and 4) Isaac finally finds comfort after the death of his mother Sarah. Let us look at each of these four steps in greater depth.
For the first step, Rebecca moves into Sarah’s tent. The Torah has already shown the deep kindness of Rebecca. She not only gives water to Abraham’s servant, but she also gives water to his camels. She is willing to leave her family and travel a great distance to marry Isaac. She is an impressive young lady. But so far Isaac has seen none of this. He was at home mourning for his mother this whole time.
Here the Midrash takes over (Genesis Rabbah 60:16). When Sarah was alive a cloud representing God’s presence hung over the tent. When Sarah died, that cloud disappeared. When Rebecca comes, she opens the doors once again to welcome visitors into the tent. She begins separating and blessing the challah dough, and Sabbath candles once again burn in the tent. God’s presence reenters the tent, and reenters Isaac’s life. Isaac sees this and is ready to marry her.
The second step was the wedding. We know nothing about how they married. Did Abraham walk his son under the huppah (marriage canopy)? Did anyone walk Rebecca? Was there a rabbi? A ketubah? Or did they simply go to the local justice of the peace and sign a document. The Torah never says because it is unimportant to the Torah. As I tell many a bride and groom, what is important is not the wedding but the marriage.
The third step was when Isaac falls in love with his bride. Notice that first they marry, then they fall in love. It was the opposite of conventional wisdom – “first comes love, then comes marriage.” The love comes after the fact. Before the marriage, the important task was finding the right bride, a woman who displayed kindness. In our contemporary world, someone searching for a life partner often looks not for kindness nor ethical values. They look for sexual attraction. But often our contemporary focus on looks blinds us to the underlying values. I tell every bride and groom, do not focus on beauty. It fades. Focus on values, which never fade. “Charm is deceptive and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is greatly to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30)
How deep was the love between Isaac and Rebecca? Later when they face twenty years of infertility, the Torah pictures them standing across the room from one another, each praying for the other. There was no anger and no accusations (unlike another infertile couple Jacob and Rachel). And there was no attempt to bring in a surrogate mother to have a baby (unlike Abraham and Sarah.) There was only a couple helping each other through a difficult time. As Goldie said to Tevye, “If that’s not love, what is?”
Finally the fourth step, Isaac was comforted after the death of his mother. After a loss the pain lingers. But kindness from another is a major factor in alleviating the pain. To go back to our Midrash, Isaac found comfort because he knew that Rebecca would continue the traditions of his mother. He now knows that the covenant will be passed on to a new generation.