When Isaac Met Rebekah: Chayei Sarah
Chayei Sarah: Genesis 23:1 – 25:18
This week’s Torah portion opens with Sarah’s death. After Abraham mourns her, he sets out to accomplish his last fatherly duty before he, too, makes his transition: finding a wife for his son Isaac. Abraham sends his most faithful servant back to the city of Nachor, his hometown, to find Isaac a spouse from his clan.
As the servant arrives at the well of the city, he begins to verbalize out loud—talking to God—the mental picture he created about how meeting the right woman for Isaac would unfold, down to the specific behavior she would have to display for him to know she is the one. As he prays for success, he repeats time and again the word chesed (loving-kindness): “Act in chesed with my master Abraham.” [Gen. 24:12] “Through her I will know that you have acted in chesed with my master.” [Gen. 24:14] And when he is finally certain he’s found the one in Rebekah, he bows down and cries: “Blessed is the Eternal, God of my master Abraham, Who has not relinquished His chesed from my master.” [Gen. 24:27]
For our mystics, Chesed is the quality (the Sefirah of the Kabbalisitc Tree of Life) associated with Abraham. Throughout his life, they affirm, Abraham embodied Chesed, loving-kindness, in his actions and his level of faith. But as Abraham’s days now come to an end, there is a fear that, perhaps, this quality was slipping away from him as these verses from his servant seem to indicate. Some commentators suggest that since the Akedah—the near sacrifice of Isaac—God had stopped talking to Abraham. It was even an angel, and not God Himself, that intervened in-extremis to stop Abraham from killing his son. Perhaps in finding Rebekah, the servant is seeking to either compel God to bestow chesed upon Abraham once again, or to be reassured that, despite the episode of the Akedah, God still holds his master in loving-kindness.
But there is another possibility. The servant’s proof that God is acting with chesed lies in the quality of the woman he is looking for. She is the one to embody this loving-kindness; the one, according to his prayer, that will give him water from the well and will spontaneously offer to water his camels too. And Rebekah fulfills his prediction exactly. God might not restore Abraham to his former status; instead he might be transferring onto Rebekah—as the new heir to His Promise—the continuity of this quality of Chesed.
And Isaac was in dire need of bringing chesed into his life. One of the consequences of the Akedah is that Isaac comes out of the ordeal embodying the qualities of restraint (of one’s impulses,) of strict justice, and of righteous power. Isaac, the Kabbalists say, symbolizes the quality of Gevurah (power, strength,) the opposite of chesed. Opposites may or may not attract but they need one another. Isaac finds in Rebekah the energies, the qualities that balance out his own. She not only consoles him after the death of his mother but keeps alive in his life, his father’s energies as well.
What about us? What would be our Sefirah on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life? What is our dominant character trait, our personal “center of gravity”? What unique primary quality do we embody? Our Kabbalistic reading of Torah invites us to look for such quality and check for ourselves if it may be so dominant in us that it has become, perhaps, a stumbling block in our life, stunting our personal growth; a disabling force in our relationships. And if that’s the case, our work is to discover and practice enhancing the opposite quality. To find healing and balance in our lives we are not to disown our inner Isaac (nor let it remain single,) but to seek instead to find its counterpart at the well of our Self, and invite-in the inner Rebekah we will meet there.