By: Rav Michael Susman
At first glance, it appears that this week’s parsha is the only one which deals at length and in depth with the lives of Yitzhak Avinu and Rivka Imenu. While it is undoubtedly true that the events described in the parsha cover the most critical happenings in their lives, it is important to remember that the story begins in last week’s parsha, Chaye Sara. It is there we learn of the search for an appropriate spouse for Yitzhak, the description of which takes up the better part of that parsha. We also read of the first meeting between Yitzhak and his young bride, an encounter that begins with Rivka descending from her camel and modestly covering herself with her shawl and ends with testament to their ultimate relationship “VaYinachem Yitzhak acharei imo”, and Yitzhak was comforted after (the loss of) his mother”. While filling the shoes of Sarah Imenu was certainly not part of the job description that Rivka had received, she seems to have filled the role admirably.
Or did she?
When we begin to examine the events of Parshat Toledot, we witness an interesting phenomenon. Rivka and her husband don’t seem to communicate very much. This observation can be best demonstrated by comparing Rivka’s reaction to her childlessness to the reactions of Sarah and Rachayl when confronting a similar predicament. The Torah tells us of Sarah’s self-sacrifice in order to ensure that Avraham would have children. While this is not the place to examine whether Sarah’s choice to have Hagar bear a child was ultimately effective or wise, the Torah recounts the dialogue between Avraham and Sarah (perek 16, 21:5-21), in equal parts poignant and painful, which accompanied this decision and its aftermath. Similarly, Rachayl, bitter at finding herself childless (30:1-4) while her sister Leah is already the mother of four boys, engages in a heated discussion with Yaakov demanding that she have children. Yaakov, infuriated by this unreasonable demand and therefore blinded to the pathos behind it, lashes back. As any married couple knows, pain and frustration can also be part of the marital dialogue. Yet, when Rivka finds herself childless, the Torah is strangely silent. We hear no conversation between the barren couple. Even their Tefilla is separate (see Rashi 25:21). When Rivka becomes pregnant, she finds herself struggling with a difficult pregnancy. Where does she turn to for comfort or solace? If it is to Yitzhak, the Torah does not mention it. Rather, Rivka goes “l’drosh et HaElokim”, to ask of Hashem (25:22). When explaining this passuk, Rashi prefers the approach of the Midrash that Rivka approached Shem, whose answer to her regarding the nature of her soon to be born sons Rivka does not even seem to share with her husband.
We see other cases of this lack of communication between Yitzhak and Rivka as opposed to more open relationships that can be found between the other Avot and Imahot in other areas as well. For our purposes two examples should suffice. When Avraham first leaves Eretz Yisrael and goes down to Mitzrayim, ((12:10-13) he decides that his personal safety requires that he conceal his true relationship with Sara and he introduces her as his sister. The Torah tells us that Avraham consults with Sarah before attempting this subterfuge. If we contrast this story to the parallel story of Yitzhak trying to protect himself from Avimelech (26:7), Yitzhak does not bother to discuss the situation with Rivka and independently introduces her as his sister.
Finally, when Yaakov recognizes that his father-in-law, Lavan, is seeking to harm him he resolves to return to Eretz Canaan. Before doing so, however, he consults with his wives in order elicit their advice and support, this despite the fact that Hashem had specifically commanded him to return (31:1-16). We see no similar example of discussion or consultation between Yitzhak and Rivka on any topic. In fact the only conversation that the Torah records between Yitzhak and Rivka is after Yaakov has taken the brachot, when Rivka insists that Yaakov be sent off to her family to find a spouse.
With this overview in mind, we must ask a simple but central question. Why is it that Rivka doesn’t share her concerns regarding Esav with Yitzhak? Would it not have been easier, rather than insisting that Yaakov deceive his father and “steal” the bracha that was earmarked for Esav, that Rivka simply talk to Yitzhak?
Rather than answering this question, Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch takes it as a given in the relationship between Rivka and Yitzhak. In attempting to explain Rifka’s behavior in deceiving Yitzhak, Rav Hirsch suggests that Rifka was well aware that she and Yaacov would eventually be found out, and sooner rather than later. But, insists Rav Hirsch, this was in fact her intention, to do something to shock Yitzhak out of his complacency regarding Esav. That fact that even Esav’s choice of wives had failed to awaken Yitzhak to the true nature of his son must have been difficult for Rifka to comprehend. She was then forced into a truly audacious action, one which, the medrash tells us, ultimately shakes Yitzhak up enough that he perceives himself perched over the abyss of Gehenom (see Rashi on passuk 33). What Esav’s wives failed to do, Yitzhak’s own wife finally manages on her own. Rivka understood that she had no hope of convincing Yitzhak of his mistake by speaking to him, and she therefore opts for a dramatic act to shake him up.
Ramban, (27:4) suggests that Rivka chose not to confront Yitzhak over his choice of whom to bless because she had two goals in mind. Her first goal was to prevent Yitzhak from blessing Esav. No less important however, was the need to ensure that the blessing would go to Yaakov. Rivka recognized that should she go to Yitzhak she would have to finally share with him the nevua promising dominance to Yaakov that she had received so long ago. By doing so, she would be forcing Yitzhak to choose between the nevua and his love for Esav. Given that choice, it was entirely plausible that Yitzhak would abandon his plan to bless Esav, but choose not to bless Yaakov, instead leaving the entire issue in Hashem’s hands. The need to ensure that Yitzhak bless Yaakov prevented her from speaking up and left no choice but subterfuge.
Rav Naftali Tzvi Berlin (Netziv) suggests (24:65) a deeper psychological reason for Rivka’s inability to simply talk to Yitzhak. Commenting on that very first meeting between Yitzhak and Rivka, where Rivka descends from her camel in awe of her husband to be, the Netziv critiques that very awe. Rivka, says the Netziv, does not cover herself up out of modesty, as we initially suggested. Rather she covers herself out of shame, as an admission that she is unworthy of marrying a man of the religious stature of Yitzhak. This sense of awe and unworthiness accompanied her throughout her relationship with Yitzhak, and prevented her from trying to communicate as an equal. The relationship between Rivka and Yitzhak is, the Netziv asserts, unequivocally not the relationship of equals that was the relationship of Avraham and Sarah. Rather, it was crippled from the start, forever weakened by a misplaced sense of inadequacy.
Shabbat Shalom – Rav Susman
|Additional shiurim from this category can be found in:||Parshat Shavua (Toldot)|
|Uploaded:||Wednesday, November 3, 2010|