Last week Yitzchak (Isaac) brought Rivkah (Rebecca) into his mother’s tent in what seems to be a sweet gesture:
ויבאה יצחק האהלה שרה אמו ויקח את־רבקה ותהי־לו לאשה ויאהבה וינחם יצחק אחרי אמו
Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebekah as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.
On the surface, so lovely: The newly arrived bride has come to replace his beloved, recently deceased mother. But a second look begs the question: Is that really what’s going on here? According to the midrash, Sarah dies in conjunction with Yitzchak’s Binding, which happens three years before Rivkah’s appearance on the scene. When Rivkah arrives, Yitzchak is at “Be’er Lachai Ro’ee” (Genesis 24:62) which is actually where Hagar and Yishma’el live! Why does Yitzchak bring Rivkah to the late Sarah’s tent? For someone who says so little, what is he trying to say?
I have often played with the idea of a book called (something like) ‘our forefathers and foremothers on the therapist’s couch’…. Indeed, from a psychologist’s perspective, Yitzchak might have had a troubled childhood: his dad torn between the handmaid who bore him his oldest (beloved) son and his mom; his dad schlepping him up the mountain with nothing but a knife and wood for the fire (chap.22); his taunting, though only, brother; his overly protective mother… no wonder he’s slightly shell-shocked, maybe suffering from PTSD, the glistening knife blinding his eyes…
The Kabbalists also point out that Yitzchak is a momma-boy, not because she protects him, coddles him and keeps bad influences away from her ‘little darling long-awaited for baby’, but because, as we’ve seen, a careful read reveals that he is really – “her child”. Sarah is the one who’s din in that relationship; she’s the one who calls Yitzchak “my son”, as Avraham calls Yishma’el “his son”. Avraham is all chesed, kindness and endless compassion; Yitzchak, like Sarah, is din, or gevura – judgment and strength, a quality who’s role it is to limit endless giving and too much generosity (and yes, there is such a thing to be too good, too giving, too much sugar). She’s the one who asks Avraham to be a “judge” (between her and Hagar), a task he (Avraham) is not naturally suited for.
No wonder Yitzchak’s wife is all chesed, like Avraham. When we read the story of how she cares for the stranger and his camels at the well (chap 24), we are struck by her similarity to Abraham, as he cares for his guests (chap 18), and the text uses similar verbs (like “rushing”) to make sure we don’t miss it. See?! Endless kindness!! The perfect match to the Avrahamic family!!
Perhaps when Yitzchak brings her into the tent he actually says, chesed is great but this way of life is much more nuanced; more is needed. We are the heirs of chesed along with din and gevura, and our child will have to be that. As the years go by, Rivkah is no longer the “all out” little girl who runs back and forth with her pitcher to the well, but a mature woman, who can keep a secret, who can manipulate a situation, who can love, but care very differently for both her sons. It is in that sense, perhaps, that he brings her into Sarah’s tent (and not Avraham’s), to let her know, that there is more.
Their relationship, in turn, is different from that of their parents. I can see him, walking in the field, figuring out how they are going to do it “right”. There’s going to be no handmaid, only long prayers with the only one, beloved wife. There’s going to be one child – one “perfect” (tam- תם) child. But G-d in His infinite wisdom and sense of humor, says, you too will have two children, and the birthright will have to be sorted out again, that’s how we get to this week’s reading.
When the twins are born, Yitzchak loves Esau, and Rivkah – loves Yaakov. Esau’s name shares its letters with “asui” – עשוי = עשיו, complete, done – what you see is what you get. Yaakov’s name comes from follower, also crooked (והיה העקב למישור). Yitzchak loves Esau “for there’s hunting in his mouth” (Genesis 25:28); Esau is worldly and capable, often called the “gadol”, the big one. Rivkah loves Yaakov, “the little one” for no obviously stated reason. Yet. Yaakov is smooth, as if “not done” yet, implying the need to grow, to move from “crooked” to “straight” (yashar – like yis’ra-el), and at times to be able to hold both. In all that, Rivkah “gets it”. She therefore brings a new dimension which Yitzchak, the boy almost sacrificed and now blind, so badly needs: not only her endless kindness and boldness, but a daring belief in the unknown, the hidden, the potential; an ability to see – and believe- in the “future”.