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Who Was Rivka?

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



Who Was Rivka?

Summarized by Matan Glidai

Translated by Kaeren Fish


We learn something of Rivka's character from a number of Biblical verses and midrashim:

  1. "And the girl to whom I shall say, 'Please let down your pitcher, that I may drink,' and she will say, 'Drink, and I shall also give the camels to drink' – it shall be she that You have appointed for Your servant, for Yitzchak...'" (24:14). Rashi comments: "She (such a girl) would be worthy of him, for she would perform kindness, and therefore would be worthy of entering Avraham's household." The text describes Rivka's beauty, but makes no mention of Eliezer paying attention to this quality. He sought a woman who was kindhearted, and that is what he found.
  2. "And Yitzchak went out to meditate in the field... and Rivka lifted her eyes and she saw Yitzchak, and she descended from the camel, and she said to the servant: 'Who is this man in the field approaching us?'" (24:63-64). Midrash Bereishit Rabba (60:14) teaches: "She saw that his hands were outstretched in prayer, and she said, 'Surely, this is a great man,' therefore she inquired concerning him." This teaches us three things:
    1. A person's greatness becomes visible when he prays. A person's prayer indicates his spiritual level.
    2. Rivka recognized the value of prayer, and was able to perceive Yitzchak's greatness through his prayer. In the next parasha we see how she, too, prays in order to have children.
    3. "And Yitzchak brought her to the tent of Sara, his mother" (24:67). Rashi explains, "He brought her to the tent and she became like his mother Sara – in other words, she veritably WAS Sara his mother, for so long as Sara lived a light remained kindled from one Shabbat eve to the next, and the dough (in the household) was blessed, and a cloud remained attached to the tent. When she died, these ceased – and when Rivka came they returned." The Midrash Rabba (60:15) describes the miraculous phenomenon slightly differently: "So long as Sara was alive a cloud was present at the entrance to her tent... the doors were open wide to invite all... there was a blessing given to the dough... there was a light that remained kindled from one Shabbat eve to the next. And when she died, these disappeared..."

We may ask the following three questions:

  1. What is the significance of these phenomena? Is the Midrash simply telling us about miracles that took place when Rivka arrived?
  2. Why does Rashi mention only three miracles, omitting the fact that the tent doors were opened wide, as recounted in the Midrash?
  3. Why does Rashi change the order of the miracles, mentioning first the light, then the blessing of the dough and lastly the cloud – in contrast to the Midrash, which lists them in the opposite order?

Each of the three miracles mentioned by Rashi has profound significance:

"A light that remained kindled from one Shabbat eve to the next" – If there is real holiness in the home on Shabbat, then Shabbat influences the whole week. If no holiness can be felt during the week, this indicates that Shabbat is not being imbued with the proper celebration and sanctity. The light that remained kindled from one Shabbat to the next symbolized how the holiness that existed in Rivka's home on Shabbat continued throughout the week.

"A blessing sent to the dough" – This is not a miracle, but rather a matter of psychology. There are some people who turn away those who come to their homes, claiming that they have nothing to give their guests to eat. Someone who truly wants to show hospitality will demonstrate how, even when it seems that there is nothing to eat, somehow there is enough for everyone, and no-one remains hungry. The "blessing in the dough" does not depend on wealth, but rather on good will. Therefore, Rashi fails to mention "the doors opened wide," for this and the blessing in the dough represent the same quality.

"A cloud attached to the tent" – Each household needs to have a spiritual purpose, something beyond the basic maintenance of the household, some spiritual goal to which it can aspire. On this point, it is worth noting the Midrash Rabba on the akeida (56:2): "'And he saw the place from afar' – what did he see? He saw a cloud attached to the mountain. He said to Yitzchak, 'My son, do you see what I see?' He answered, 'Yes.' He said to his two servants, 'Do you see what I see?' They answered, 'No.' He said, 'Since the donkey does not see and you do not see either, remain here with the donkey.'" This midrash indicates the need to cultivate a spiritual view of the world, one which looks beyond the merely physical aspects of life.

Rashi, adopting an educational approach, lists the miracles from the smallest to the greatest. First, one has to observe the basic mitzvot such as Shabbat. Then one also must address the mitzvot pertaining to interpersonal relationships and kindness. Finally, it is important that there should be some lofty spiritual goal – a cloud attached to the tent. The Midrash, on the other hand, simply lists the miracles in the order of their actual realization in the case of Rivka: since she had a superior spiritual purpose, the other phenomena followed naturally.

(Delivered at seuda shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Chayei Sara 5753 [1992].)


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