Parshat Chayei Sarah

In this week’s פרשה, we’re taken to the very first shidduch in the history of the world. אַבְרָהָם is growing older, therefore he sends his servant, אליעזר, to find a suitable wife for his son, יִצְחָק. Once the arrangement between רִבְקָה and יִצְחָק is made, אליעזר prepares to leave. The פסוק tells us the conversation אליעזר has with the mother and brother of רִבְקָה debating whether or not רִבְקָה should be leaving as well. In order to come to a conclusion, they decided to ask רִבְקָה herself:

“וַיִּקְרְאוּ לְרִבְקָה וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלֶיהָ הֲתֵלְכִי עִם הָאִישׁ הַזֶּה וַתֹּאמֶר אֵלֵךְ” – “And they said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ and she said, ‘I will go.'”

This is a seemingly regular conversation, but we know the תורה doesn’t waste a word, or even a single letter. The fact that we know this entire conversation must be coming to tell us more than what we see at face value. My first question is as follows: If public affairs were- and still are, in the תורה world- normally handled man to man, why is רִבְקָה’s mother the one arguing with and resisting אליעזר? This point could perhaps be used as a proof for the מדרש that tells us what happened when אליעזר first arrived at בתואל’s home. בתואל had secretly poisoned אליעזר’s food with the intention to kill. Yet his plan was ruined because אליעזר insisted on not eating anything until he had given over the entire story of how אַבְרָהָם has instructed him to find יִצְחָק a wife. In the time he was speaking, a מלאך came and switched the plates of אליעזר and בתואל. Therefore, according to this מדרש, בתואל was no longer alive, and his wife has no choice but to speak instead..

My second question is, why does the פסוק have to lead up to the point where רִבְקָה says she will go? Why are we not just told that she went? I think the purpose of this it to help us step into רִבְקָה’s shoes for the moment. Yes, here she’s being offered the opportunity to be married to the greatest גדול of her time. Yet on the other hand, going to Israel with a stranger to live with relatives she’s never even met before is no easy feat. רִבְקָה was being given the chance to take a step out of the comfort of her home where, although she stood alone in her belief in H’ and Judaism she had been able to manage thus far. רִבְקָה was able to stay a צדקת even though she was surrounded by עבירות and immorality, but the decision to take a risk for the sake of the unknown future was a far more frightening endeavor than simply continuing her current lifestyle, and was a more commendable act because of it. From here we can learn a valuable and very applicable lesson: Each person is given their own circumstances and challenges. As a בעלת תשובה, I feel I can relate to this on a very personal level.
Granted, my family isn’t full of רשעים, and I live in a different time period, but something about being the first person in my family in generations to find my way back to Yiddishkeit doesn’t even begin to resemble a quick and simple process. Coming to seminary after the journey I’d already been through wasn’t exactly at the top of my list since it meant leaving my family and the support system that I had built at home. However, advancing in my learning and growth experiences took ultimate priority. I was fortunate enough to be able to come to Israel, in order to gain as much as I possibly can, even though it required adapting to a new environment and stretching above my regular limitations.
One strong difference between my decision making process and that of רִבְקָה is that I had support behind me. With רִבְקָה, right after she says she wants to leave, her mother and לָבָן respond in the next פסוק with “וַיְשַׁלְּחוּ .” The מפרשים have different ways of explaining what this word exactly means and stands for. רש״י says that רִבְקָה’s family escorted her out of her home not because they wanted to, but because they didn’t want her to leave out of defiance, and therefore, they reluctantly agreed to the arrangement. The אברבנאל seems to add onto this idea and says that not only ware her family members unhappy with רִבְקָה’s choice, but they only “escorted” her, as in they didn’t accompany רִבְקָה on the trip, possibly as a sign of their disapproval.
We have a lot to learn from רִבְקָה and the hardships she went through. Not only was she a צדקת while she was surrounded by רשעים, but she left to an unfamiliar life for the sake of the unknown that was accepted as ה׳’s will. Many times we can be in the same situation, needing to choose between what is comfortable and something greater. I know I have personally felt this struggle and hope I only grow from each encounter with it, and it should be that we can all be זוכה to learn from רִבְקָה and follow in her footsteps of greatness.

Student studying in Tomer Devorah