The couples of the Torah continue to fascinate me. This week, we are visited by Isaac and Rebekah, the only couple of the forefathers who maintains a complete monogamous relationship. No maidservants, no second wives, and even in times of hardship, when they cannot conceive, they do not seek alternatives, but pray for each other. Did they learn from the previous generation? If we look at the psychological construct of our forefathers, we can notice the careful dance between continuity and change: the things they adopted from the parents and the things they’d rather not. This might be symbolized in Isaac, re-digging his father’s wells, before digging his own.
Isaac and Rebekah’s first meeting must be auspicious too: She is brought to him after carefully being picked by his father’s servant with special signs. How come he didn’t look for her by himself? We can guess, but the bottom line is, he didn’t. Isaac remains the more passive of the two, and she – the outgoing one. When she sees him, she falls off the camel. Notice the interesting order of things: first the text says she saw Isaac; then she fell off, then she questioned the servant: “Who is this man, walking in the field towards us?” (Genesis 24:65). But she knew already! Did the servant just confirm that it is indeed his master? And then she takes her shawl and wraps herself up, which means, she wasn’t wrapped in it during the journey?
I’m trying to picture the convoy, riding for some time now, approaching the Land of Canaan. Rebekah, probably sent with some of her maidservants, and at least with her nurse, Devora, carried on top. The days are long, and filled with lovely Mediterranean views, sort of like riding through present-day Italy and Greece (I don’t think they rode through endless desert. Based on geo-botanic research, the Land of Israel back then was covered in oak forests, on top of its fame as the land of ‘milk and honey’). Regardless, even that gets old after a while. Being Rebekah’s friends, I want to think the girls must be having some fun, chattering and joking, trying to each other’s scarves, playing housewives, guessing what life has in store, playfully teasing each other about the future and what would it be like.
Then they see this guy (giggle, giggle)! A guy! Walking in the field! In the middle of nowhere! Ooo, look, look, Rebekah, is that him?? Yoohoo, one calls mischievously; another maybe whistles, and another one yet, pulls Rebekah’s scarf and waves.
Isaac lifts up his eyes, and sees camels (verse 63); Rebekah lifts her eyes and sees Isaac (64). It might be because of the convoy’s size that he sees the whole, while he is just one, easier to identify. And yet, already then, she sees what escapes him, distinguishing critical details from a complex scene. This pattern continues this week, when Isaac is described as blind; so blind that he misses the meaning of the differences between his sons, leading to this week’s drama. If you’d like to join us, come for our monthly Shabbat afternoon chamin and chavruta as we explore this further.