Posts Tagged 'Rivka'

Test of Character: Camel and Champ

How do you know when you meet the one? In Chaye Sara, this week’s Torah portion, we learn about Abraham’s servant Eliezer’s mission to find a mate for Yitzhak. Laden with gifts, Eliezer goes to Charan. At the village well, Eliezer asks God for a sign. When the maidens come to the well, he will ask for some water to drink; the woman who will offer to give his camels to drink as well shall be the one destined for his master’s son. It seems as if the discovery of Rivka is a miracle. But was it?

We have to realize that the gifts Eliezer brought along to make the process smoother might have been the heart of the challenge. He needed to find a test that would ensure the the would-be-mate was not coming just for the gifts. Incentives can have an adverse impact on the desired outcomes. So the test itself had to prove motive commitment beyond fleeting avarice.

On this point I recall my first Shabbat as a Hillel Rabbi on campus. We had a huge Shabbat dinner for the first year students and their parents. In an wonderfully awkward interaction a father leaned over to tell his son to look around to find a mate. When the embarrassed son rebuffed his father’s urging, the father leaned back to impart some wisdom. He said in a loud voice, ” You know son, when you marry for money- it does not mean you do not need to work for it. ”

Eliezer needed to make sure that Yitzhak’s future wife was in it for the right reasons. So how did Eliezer know that this test would prove who was supposed to be the mate of choice?

The legendary UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” Rivka was a person of character. Being nice to the stranger might come with reward, but who was going to notice that she was nice to the camels? Wooden also said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” The camel having just treked through the desert represents the voiceless in need. Rivka in her essence was more concerned with her character than her reputation.

All of this comes to explain why Eliezer would be interested in her, but why she would be interested? She was never into it for the riches, her motives were to be a good person. Abraham’s project of Judaism is a movement of character refinement. Rivka proves her commitment to this mission.

When I reflect on Rivka’s passing the test with the camel I have hope in Champ. Biden will be the first President who has a rescue dog in the White House. In the last four years we have learned that avarice and unchecked power is blinding. When it comes to character in leadership, it is not an important thing, it is everything.

Holding It All Together: Reflections After Recent Tragedies in Jerusalem

This week has been filled with more heart wrenching stories from the ongoing tragedies in Israel. In this context someone shared with me a poem of Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. The poem is called “The Diameter of the Bomb”.

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making a circle with no end and no God.

What is the full impact of violence? Is anyone truly spared from the effect of destruction in the world? The words “no end” in the last line in Hebrew אין סוף- ein sof  is one of the ways we refer to God. So in some sense this violence itself might impact God or even be an act of deicide . Does violence know any limits? In a very poetic way Amichai is describing the etiology of tragedy inside the “thirty centimeters” of a bomb.  What did this world look like before this big bang?

I was thinking about this when reading Toldot, this week’s Torah portion, when we read about the pregnancy of Rivka. There we read;

And the Lord said to her: Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be separated from your bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger (Genesis 25:23).

At the simplest level Rivka learned about her discomfort with being pregnant with twins. The prophecy did not just warn her about carrying two fetuses in her womb; she had “two peoples” in her body. There is no wonder that she is not comfortable; she was to give birth to entire nations with her body being transformed into a proverbial clown car. On a deeper look, while this might have been said to allay her biological fears of a difficult pregnancy, she is left with the psychological horror of having to parent two children who will be at each others’ throats. Her womb is holding together a history of war similar to  Amichai’s bomb.

While we are all God’s children, God is alone in seeing the unfolding of our history of bloody sibling rivalry. The pregnant Rivka embodies the internalization of the pain of the clash of civilizations. She represents the discomfort of knowing that there will be strife in the future between two people who share much in common and should love each other as brothers. I am not saying that Rivka and Yitzhak were the best parents, but I do want to connect with her fear for the future. This reminds me of what Golda Meir said to Anwar Saddat, “We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we will never forgive you for making us kill yours.” When will we both be ready to struggle together to achieve a lasting peace? I hope that we can keep the hopes and aspirations of a pregnant mother in mind.

 

Little Becky : Feeling at Home for the First Time

Years ago I heard a story of a girl named Becky. She grew up in a small town where she was the only Jewish child. She had many friends, but she was still a little lonely. There was part of her that yearned to be with others who shared her faith, practices, culture, and history. From her earliest days she remembered her family telling that there was a place for her to be with her people. So when she was old enough she decided to go there. She went with someone who had been there before  who took her to this special place. As her companion saw the sites signaling that they were getting close Becky echoed that person’s excitement.  By the time she got there her heart was palpitating. The minute her foot hit the ground she felt at home for the first time in a place she had never been before.

For any of us who grew up going to camp we can relate to little Becky.  Even today there is a special feeling going up to camp that reminds me of that first time I stepped off that bus so many years ago.  I was privileged to grow up in a large Jewish community attending a Jewish day school. Thinking about Becky I think about my camp friends who grew up in the coal-mining communities  in Pennsylvania. For them it was transformational to live in a vibrant Jewish community of their peers. Seeing their experiences enriched mine. I never took camp for granted and it made me love that community even more. Jewish camp is that home that we need desperately need for the next generation.

The only other place that I have had this kind of experience of homecoming to a place I had not been previously is Israel. So, it will not be surprising if you were to learn that the place she went in little Becky’s story was Israel. It might surprise you that this story is actually taken from Chaye Sarah, this week’s Torah portion. Truly years ago, it is the story of Rivka Imeynu, Rebecca our Matriarch. She left the place she grew up to come home to the land of Canaan. Echoing Abraham’s answering God’s call of Lech Lecha-  to Go, Rivka says”Ailech- I will go” (Genesis 24:58). Following in his footsteps she goes home to a place she has never been before.  It makes me think of Rainer Maria Rilke the German poet when we said,“The only journey is the one within.” We are a nation of seekers.

For All Those Years

In Vayetei, this week’s Torah portion, we read of Yakov’s escape to Haran. Last week he stole the birthright and the blessing from Esav and now he wants to evade Esav’s wrath.  There in Haran he falls in love with Rachel. Lavan convincing him to work for 7 years for Rachel’s hand in marriage. Lavan dupes Yakov into marrying Rachel’s older sister Leah instead. When confronted for deceiving Yakov, Lavan replies, “It is not so done in our place, to give the younger before the first-born” ( Genesis 29:26). Many questions arise from this situation. I wanted to discuss two now. How in the world did Yakov not realize that he was sleeping with Leah and not Rachel? What did Lavan mean by his response to Yakov?

On the first question I refer us back to Toldot, last week’s Torah portion. There we read of Rivka’s deception of Yitzhak. There the blind Yitzhak asks Esav for some food. There we read:

Now therefore take, I pray of you, your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and take me venison; and make me savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless you before I die.’ ( Genesis 27: 3-4)

Rivka overhears this plan and tells Yakov to intervene and to follow her plan. There we read:

Go now to the flock, and fetch me from two good kids of the goats from there; and I will make them savory food for your father, such as he loves; and you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death.’ ( Genesis 27: 9-10)

At the core of this deception is the issue of perception. ( I realize that I am reading this differently then I did last week.) Yitzhak is blind, but that does not mean that we cannot taste. So how did this deception work? How might someone mistake goat for venison? Either Yitzhak is just not that perceptive or Rivka has been serving him goat meat for years and telling him it is venison.

In either case we might have some answers to our questions. Maybe Yakov like Yitzhak is just not that perceptive. While that is not that satisfying, it is interesting to realize how much Yakov is like Yitzhak.  This leaves us with the second question. What did Lavan mean?

It is hard as the reader not to read it as sarcastic. So we would read Lavan’s reply as, “It is not so done in our place as compared to your place, to give the younger before the first-born as you stole the birthright and blessing from your older brother Esav.”  But we the readers of the Torah know what Yakov did, but how would Lavan have known of Yakov’s decption of Esav and Yitzhak? It is possible that Lavan does not know anything of Yakov’s misdeeds. Maybe he is referring in a back-handed way to Rivka and her ways. She did grow up there with him in Haran. Maybe Rivka like Lavan are tricksters. For all of those years maybe Rivka was deceiving Yitzhak serving him goat and claiming it was venison. In this way Lavan is claiming that Yakov is no different from Rivka who is no different from himself.  As the Roman Philospher  Marcus Tullius Cicero said, ” It is the peculiar quality of a fool to perceive the faults of others and to forget his own”. We know that Lavan is a fool, but what is Yakov? It takes Yakov much of his life to realizing his similarities to both the positive and negative qualities of his parents. Like many of us, Yakov spends his whole life reconciling his identities. In this process of wrestling with our various identities we all become Yisrael.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 209 other followers

Archive By Topic


%d bloggers like this: