Rebecca’s Blessing: Chaye Sarah 2015

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Leadoff Questions: Is it fair to be evaluated by others based on the character or actions of one’s parents? How about the character or actions of one’s children? The blessing given to Rebecca just before she leaves her home to marry Isaac indicates that Rebecca’s legacy is based on those closest to her, not on her own accomplishments.

Text: “So they sent off their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his entourage. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, ‘O sister! May you grow into thousands of myriads; May your descendants seize the gates of their foes.’” (Genesis 24:59-60)

Commentary #1: “Like Abraham, Rivka is the bearer of a promise. The promise is bestowed in her family’s blessing: many children, a progeny that ‘inherits its enemies’ gates.’ ‘Inheritance’ is an essential theme of Genesis, and indeed of every family history. When Abraham had no children, he complained that someone from his household would ‘inherit’ him (Genesis 15:3). After the binding of Isaac, God promised Abraham, ‘Your seed will inherit its enemies’ gate’ (Genesis 22:17). Rivka’s family offers her the same blessing … ‘Inheriting’ goes from Abraham to Rivka to Jacob and to the people of Israel. Her decisiveness, her strong will, and her embrace of her destiny make her a strong active link between Abraham and Jacob.” – Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories

Commentary #2: “According to the Sages, children take after the mother’s brother. Knowing this, Laban wanted his sister Rebecca to have a great many children, so that there might be many more men as evil as he in the world.” – Anonymous

Commentary #3: “It’s true that Rebecca’s descendants – the Children of Israel – eventually do grow into a mighty nation that seizes its enemies’ gates. But so do her other descendants, the Children of Esau – first Edom, whom Jewish tradition identifies as the Roman Empire, and Edom’s descendants, the Christian nations of the world. We should therefore be careful how we bless each other, since blessings, like children, eventually take on a life of their own.” – Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam

Follow-Up Questions: Frymer-Kensky suggests that Rebecca is the essential bridge between Abraham and Jacob – almost superseding Isaac in terms of being a “patriarch.” Our anonymous source believes that Rebecca’s blessing is a selfish wish bestowed upon her by her brother. Frankel takes a middle path by saying that one’s progeny, after some time, makes a name for themselves.

To what extent is Rebecca’s blessing a positive wish for her? Does the fact that it speaks so much of her descendants make it a backhanded compliment of sorts? Knowing what we know about Rebecca and her relationship with her children, does she take a more activist role than Isaac? Is there a case to be made for her to supplant Isaac as her generation’s bearer of God’s promise?

Emanu-El Happenings: I am very much looking forward to meeting and hearing Yizhar Hess, the Executive Director and CEO of the Masorti movement in Israel, at our synagogue Wednesday night. This edition of the Charleston Jewish Federation’s Voices of Israel series will feature an important discussion of the challenges of building a Jewish state that embraces many forms of Jewish expression. I urge you to attend at our synagogue at 7:30PM on Wednesday, November 11th.

The Big Inning at the End: Earlier in the portion, Abraham’s lead servant is charged with traveling a great distance to find a wife for Isaac. You could say that this servant was the first scout in biblical history (besides, perhaps, the dove Noah sends to find dry land at the conclusion of the flood). While Abraham approaches this responsibility with great apprehension, I’ve always thought that being a scout would be a fun job. I’ve had the privilege to sit next to Major League scouts at minor-league baseball games, and I found the experience fascinating. These are people fully engaged with the game, analyzing the physical and mental tools of many a prospect. And since they don’t advertise the fact that they are scouts, they can walk around almost anonymously, being with the true fans of the sport. Maybe Abraham’s servant had a pretty neat job after all …

Shabbat Shalom!