The story of Rebecca and Isaac begins with Abraham who sends Eliezer to find a bride to his son, Isaac. Rebecca’s name is mentioned right after the binding of Isaac. The next time we hear her name, she is a young maiden who meets Eliezer by the well, giving water to the tired man and his camels.
The test of grace [Chesed] Eliezer designs is created in order to find a suitable bride for his master’s son. This first encounter suggests that Rebecca’s character combines grace and generosity, with practical and realistic actions.
Rebecca gives water to the man and his camels. She does not differentiate between man and animal, and generously provides water to all. Eliezer is impressed by Rebecca’s beauty and generosity, gives her jewels and asks about her family. Rebecca gives a matrilineal lineage, and then goes home to tell her mother about the stranger whom she invited over.
Rebecca’s abilities are not only acknowledged by the stranger, but are also known to her family: When Eliezer asks for her hand in marriage on behalf of his master’s son, Rebecca is asked whether she agrees. Without hesitation she responds: I will go.
Like Abraham who sets out to meet his destiny, Rebecca leaves her father’s house to go to the unknown and marry Isaac. Their first meeting is unplanned, unexpected: Isaac walks in the field, and sees Rebecca, still mounted on her camel, on her way to meet him. When their eyes meet, Rebbecca falls off her camel and hides herself with a shawl.
In this unexpected meeting of the eyes, Rebecca might have glimpsed into her future and saw her future sons, and the heavy toll love will demand of her. She might fall off the camel, but she is not deterred. She covers herself in a shawl, turning inward to prepare herself to what awaits her.
Isaac and Rebecca’s love is gradual: it grows over time. Isaac brings Rebecca into his mother’s tent, accepts her as his wife, knows her, and when his love ripens he finds solace from his bereavement over his mother’s death, and Rebecca finds her home in his heart. Unlike Abraham and Jacob who did not consider themselves responsible for their wives’ bareness, Isaac and Rebecca pray together for children: she prays for him, and he prays for her.
When she is pregnant, Rebecca seeks God, and receives a prophecy regarding the future that awaits her sons. This prophecy will make her acknowledge Isaac’s rightful heir and make a harsh choice between her two boys. Rebecca does not consult her husband, but knowingly and clairvoyantly sets out to act upon the prophecy.
The poet Rivka Miriam characterizes Rebecca and Isaac’s first encounter in terms of dusk, forgiveness, and joy:
Rebecca has married the dusks
that are the essence of in-betweens,
a gray so sensitive it easily forgives.
On a noble camel she rode toward her dusks
and seeing them across from her
so restrained, serious as jasmine severed from
she fell off the camel
like a joyous vat of wine
whose hoops have been loosened
~ Isaac, Rivka Miriam. Translated by Linda Stern Zisquit
Isaac was a man of dusk, of in-betweens. Rebecca was all knowing and clairvoyant, courageously resolute.
Feature Photo: Marc Chagall, The Birthday (1915)