This Week's Torah Reading
- Genesis 23: 1 - 25: 18
is framed by the deaths of the first two Jews. Sarah's death is mentioned in the opening verses, while Abraham's death is told to us at the end. In between two significant events occur. The first one involves Abraham negotiating with Ephron, a local Hittite, for land to bury Sarah. The burial takes place at the Cave of Machpelah, which is located in Hebron.
The second event involves finding a bride for Isaac. After burying Sarah, Abraham sends his servant, Eliezer, to find a woman who will be a proper partner for Isaac. When he arrives there he meets Rebekah, who is the daughter of Abraham's cousin. She is beautiful and her first act upon seeing Eliezer is one of kindness - she brings Eliezer and his entourage water to drink after their long journey. Rebekah then returns to Canaan with Eliezer. As they arrive, Rebekah sees Isaac walking in the field and alights from her camel. "Isaac then brought her to the tent of his mother, Sarah, and he took Rebekah for his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort in his mother's death." (Gen 26:67).
Isaac was returning to Abraham from where he had settled in the Negev (southern region) when he first encounters his future wife Rebecca. The text then tells us,
"Va-yetzeh Yitzchak lasuach ba-sadeh
, Isaac went out walking in the field toward evening, and looking up he saw camels approaching. Raising her eyes, Rebecca saw Isaac..." (Gen 24:63-64) What were the qualities that Rebecca was looking for in a life partner? What exactly was it that Rebecca noticed when she sees her future husband for the first time from afar, that assured her that he would fulfill her expectations??
The key Hebrew word here is
, translated as "walking", but may also mean something like meditating or even praying. According to the rabbis, of the three daily services, Isaac is the first to institute the
, or afternoon service (as it is towards evening, but not yet night) and that is indicated in this verse. This suggests that, at least according to rabbinic interpretation, when Rebecca first saw Isaac, she saw him engaged in prayer. It seems to me though that this interpretation says a lot more about Rebecca then it does Isaac.
Perhaps it was that Rebecca, (who may be the most interesting woman described to us in the Torah), recognized that if Isaac could stop in the middle of the day to give thanks for all that was good in his life, he possessed a gift that was of great importance. She seemed to sense that Isaac's good qualities would all flow from this moment, from his expression of piety and gratitude.
It seems to me that each of us may also have what Rebecca first sees in Isaac, the ability to be both grateful and pious at any given moment. When we find it in ourselves others may sense it too, and then also find it in themselves. That may indeed be the quality that Rebecca recognized when she first saw Isaac
, "walking" in the field toward evening.