I saw it coming—at least part of it. There was nothing I could do to stop it. I even hinted that I knew, asking, "Where is the sheep for the offering, my father?" He brushed me off, telling me, "God will provide the sheep, my son." And maybe he believed it when he said it. But I saw the look in his eyes when he bound me to the altar. When he raised that knife, he meant it. Even the acid-burning tear falling from his eye into my own could not blind me to his intent: He meant to kill me! Yes, the angel stopped him, and the ram was offered in my place. But he meant to do it—to me! His son, his only son, his beloved Isaac.
I couldn't stay with him. He returned to Beer-Sheba, but that knife had severed the bond between us as surely as if it had indeed shed my blood. I didn't know where to go. As I came down from the mountain, I learned that my mother had left my father and gone to Hebron. I raced to her, seeking the comfort of her strong embrace, but too late. Convinced of my death at her husband's hands, she had thrown herself to death. What is left for me, what comfort, what strength, what companionship? I am alone...
Alone no longer! When Father came to bury Mother, we had nothing to say to each other even in our grief. And we both felt it, so deeply. But at least he understood. He saw how lost I have been. And today the miracle occurred. All these months, Mother's tent has stood empty—a silent testimony to what all of us have lost. I even went so far as to seek out Hagar and bring her back with me in an effort to heal the wounds of the past. When I returned, Rebecca was there. I had been wandering in the fields. "When will I find peace?" I asked. "How will I find the strength to carry on my father's legacy, and do I even want to?" And there was the answer-the strength and courage blazing from her eyes-so bright it sparkled even through her bridal veil. I love her. I love her and I'm a little frightened of her. She has the strength of my mother and the vision of my father-vision my dimmed eyes will never see. I know she will see that vision fulfilled, whatever it might take. Thank you for sending her to me. Perhaps through her I will become whole.
Note: The ideas for this piece were assembled from a variety of midrashim and commentaries. Together, they form a picture of Isaac's needs and of what he might have been looking for in his arranged marriage to Rebecca.
- Does this story teach us anything about romantic versus arranged marriages? What needs should a marriage meet in order to be perceived as a success?
- The story of the betrothal makes it clear that the true shadchan (matchmaker) in this story is God. How does this match meet God's needs? That is, why might God have wanted these two to be together?
- Is the match between Isaac and Rebecca successful?
Rabbi Rex D. Perlmeter is the founder of The Jewish Wellness Center of Montclair, New Jersey.
Why was Tevye so interested in tradition? What is so compelling about tradition that draws us to religious ritual when, for the most part, we don't consider ourselves bound to ancient laws or precepts? Aren't we members of a branch of Judaism that prefers to think, evaluate, and choose that which is meaningful to us in our day?
So why do we hear about Reform Jews choosing to have a Pidyon Haben (Redemption of the Firstborn Son) orPidyon Habat (Redemption of the Firstborn Daughter) ceremony when liberal Jews have all but abandoned this custom? And why are more and more liberal Jews choosing to go to themikveh (the ritual bath) before marriage, or choosing to include the ritual of circling the groom (and/or the bride) or the custom of badeken (veiling of the bride) at their wedding?
Just what is tradition? Most people think of it as a behavior handed down from one generation to the next. It is usually so powerful that it seems to have the force of law. Traditions strengthen our sense of family and help us define our sense of belonging. Traditions connect us to our past and to our heritage, adding beauty and meaning to our lives.
This week's Torah portion, Chaye Sarah, presents some of the traditions associated with death and those associated with marriage. After Sarah dies, Abraham sends his servant Eliezer to find a bride for Isaac. Eliezer returns with Rebecca who "took her veil and covered herself" (Genesis 24:65) upon seeing Isaac for the first time. Perhaps as a sign of modesty or perhaps to indicate that the groom is not primarily interested in his bride's physical beauty but rather in her spiritual qualities, the custom of badeken (which can be traced to sources 600 years old) continues to be practiced today. Furthermore, just as Isaac's marriage to Rebecca marks the beginning of the Jewish people, today's brides dream of creating a special legacy of their own as Rebecca did.
After the veiling of the bride, it is customary to bless her with the blessing that was given to Rebecca: "O sister, may you grow into thousands of myriads" (Genesis 24:60), and the blessing has come to include "May God make you as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah." Thus the blessing given to the first Jewish bride is repeated for all her descendants. It connects the bride to her ancestry and helps her define her future as a Jewish woman. Even though we do our own thinking, evaluation, and choosing, a tradition like the badeken ceremony can provide powerful associations with new interpretations.
In Song of Songs, King Solomon uses the metaphor of Israel and God as bride and groom. And in Jewish thought, the Sabbath is allegorically referred to as the "bride" of the Jewish people. Might we then think aboutbadeken as symbolizing God's protection of Israel and as the Jewish people's protection of the Sabbath? How else can this tradition be given greater meaning today?
At the time of this writing in 1997, Jo Kay was the educator at Rodeph Sholom Congregation, New York, New York.
Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23:1–25:18
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 156–167; Revised Edition, pp. 153–167;
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 111–132