Friday, November 17, 2006

Chayyei Sarah

This week's Torah reading is Chayyei Sarah, or the life of Sarah, which is ironic because she dies something like two lines in.

I am fairly heavily invested in this torah portion, as it is the first appearance of my Hebrew namesake, Rivkah/Rebecca. For those who are not as familiar with the story, Isaac/Yitzhak, son of Abraham/Avraham needs a wife. Avraham sends his servant Eliezer to go take care of that. He prays to find someone, saying: Let the girl to whom I shall say, “Please offer your jar that I may drink”, and who shall say, “Drink, and I will water your camels”—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.’ (Genesis 24:14) Sure enough, immediately Rivkah shows up and offers to do just that.

And here is where things get dicey. According to many sources Rivkah was 3. I'm not going to debate the factual problems with a 3-year-old carrying enough water for camels up and down the type of wells that were then in existence. My main issue is that the commentators, and modern people accept this midrash. For example Aaron Freeman in his Comic Torah suggests that "a slow 40 year old and a precocious 3 year old were a perfect match." Maybe I am just oversensitive in the wake of Foley et al, but eeeew. Dovbear is similarly perturbed by this reading, but says that he doesn't feel like he is "equipped to decide between these arguments." Alex Israel of Thinking Torah shares my concerns, but reconciles them through a neat bit of exegesis; positing that the sacrifice of Yitzhak is not actually linked to the death of Sarah, as many commentators suggest.

Chaim B. of Divrei Chaim doesn't address Rivkah's age, but uses the presumption that she was three at the time of her marriage as the basis for a practice of young girls lighting shabbes candles. He does admit that: "I am not sure a three or five year old is ready for the mitzvah yet (especially using matches and a candle), so in our house we wait for the girls to get a little bigger." Although three may not be old enough for lighting candles, or marriage, according to the torah it is old enough for nose rings. Lazer Brody of Lazer Beams starts his discussion of the portion with the quote: "And the man[Eliezer] took a golden nose ring…and two bracelets… And he asked, "Whose daughter are you?" (Genesis 24: 22-23)"

Aside from the age issue, Rivkah and Yitzhak actually are two players in a beautiful love story. Unlike other matriarchs, Rivkah actually chooses her fate, as it says:"And they called Rebekah, and said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ She said, ‘I will.’" (Genesis 24:58) Not only is she an agent of her fate, she was chosen based on merit (the camel-watering incident), but she also, at least in Yitzhak's mind, takes the place of Sarah. The end of the chapter reads:"Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death." (Genesis 24:67) The whole Oedipal thing might be a little gross, except for the fact that it is prefaced with "and he loved her." Not the usual biblical "and he knew her" or "and he took her" but that he loved her.

Akiva, a guest poster on Mystical Paths discusses this love in more depth. While the more practical Josh at Parshiyos suggests that Yitzkah's acceptance of a wife is the first step towards assuming the reins of Avraham's leadership of the Jewish people.

I prefer to read it as a love story, but then again, I'm still waiting for my b'sheret*. Anyone know a Yitzhak?


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