Why does the story of Isaac begin when he gets married?
Table for Five: Toldot
In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebecca the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Padan Aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to himself for a wife.
Aliza Lipkin, Writer and educator, Maaleh Adumim, Israel
“Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebecca, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Padan Aram.” Rashi says Padan can be referring to the Arabic term “fadan”, which means field. This is interesting, as upon Rebecca’s return with Eliezer to meet Isaac for the first time, she asks Eliezer, “Who is that man walking in the field towards us?” and he replied, “He is my master.” And she took her veil and covered herself.
Why would she cover herself?
Perhaps she felt God had seen and heard her innermost desires and was responding to them which induced a feeling of modesty that compelled her to cover up, much like Adam and Eve covered themselves when they realized that God saw and heard their thoughts and deeds in the Garden of Eden. Rebecca understood that God was responding to her prayers immediately when she saw Isaac for the first time. It was uncanny to her as she watched Isaac praying in the field. Rebecca must have gone out on many occasions to the fadan/field in Aram to gain respite from the house of trickery (which is the definition of Aram according to the commentaries). She fell from her camel in astonishment as this distinguished man from the house of Abraham, who stood for everything she wanted, was walking toward her. Her prayers were finally coming to fruition in the very familiar setting of the field, a place where she undoubtedly prayed many heartfelt prayers leading to that moment.
David Sacks, Happy Minyan of Los Angeles
When I was growing up, my parents used to rent a cottage in Massachusetts near a small town called Padan Aram. Little did I know that it was named after one of the key locations in the book of Genesis.
I wish this story had a better ending, but then again how many people grew up playing marbles in Padan Aram?
Regarding our verse, why is there so much information about Rebecca’s family here, and so little about Isaac’s? The answer is, to give praise to Rebecca. Unlike Isaac, Rebecca was not raised in a righteous family. In fact, Rebecca’s brother Laban was so evil, that our mystical tradition teaches that on a soul level, he was a reincarnation of the snake from the Garden of Eden. Amazingly, that didn’t stop Rebecca from becoming one of the holiest people ever.
Building on this idea, the Talmud teaches that someone who didn’t grow up keeping mitzvahs but then returns and serves Hashem is on an even higher level than someone who’s been righteous their entire life. This can be compared to two wealthy people. One has diamonds, while the other has both diamonds and rubies and is therefore even richer. The diamonds are mitzvahs. The rubies are the mistakes the person made.
How do we turn mistakes into rubies? By uprooting our bad habits and redirecting that energy toward sanctifying Hashem’s name. Perfection is a great light. But darkness that becomes perfection is a light that shines even brighter.
Sara Blau, Author of Twenty-Nine Books
When telling a compelling story, there is a beginning, a middle, and an end, with twists and turns along the way. And when telling a story of someone’s life, the starting point one chooses to begin the narration of the story is very telling (pun intended).
In this week’s Torah Portion of Parshat Toldot, the verse begins “This is the story of Isaac, son of Abraham.” What is the starting point of Isaac’s story? Not any of the good deeds he performed in his childhood. Not the moment when Isaac was bound on the Altar at the age of thirty seven. And not even when, as the Midrash says, Isaac ascended to the Garden of Eden for three years of his life.
The starting point of Isaac’s story is when he got married to Rebeca at the age of forty, followed by having twins at the age of sixty.
The Torah is teaching a profound lesson in choosing to begin Isaac’s story at that point in time. The purpose of creation is not to be a martyr and leave this world, nor is it even to live in the Garden of Eden. The purpose of creation is to work with the world and elevate it, not escape it. G-d desires that we marry and build Jewish homes, fulfilling as many physical mitzvot as humanly possible. G-d desires to dwell down here on earth among his Chosen people, serving Him in a physical capacity, elevating the mundane into holiness.
Rabbi Yoni Dahlen, Spiritual Leader / Congregation Shaarey Zedek
It is human nature to idolize the hero, to read a story and place ourselves in the role of the warrior, the explorer, the trailblazer. In our Torah, that instinct lends itself most seamlessly to the figures of Avraham and Sarah.
With our chief patriarch and matriarch, the boxes are checked. Chosen by God. Brave and confident. And so when we study Torah, it makes sense that we want to see ourselves walking the journey of Avraham and Sarah.
And sometimes we do walk the path of the leader, the pioneer, the hero. But I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we have the opportunity to see our Jewish lives in an important and beautiful light by identifying with those whose stories might not seem as exciting or enticing.
Isaac and Rebecca are the knock-off Avraham and Sarah, the store-brand Avraham and Sarah. They don’t have many episodes or character developments that are uniquely theirs. And that is precisely what makes them vital to our national narrative. They are us. They come with baggage. They come with trauma. They come with all the things that make people… people.
Which is why we owe them our attention, why we owe them our willingness to see and to learn, and most importantly, why we owe them our love. Because to study Isaac and Rebecca is to study ourselves. And to love these imperfect and complicated ancestors of ours, is to love us, baggage and all.
Rabbi Dr. Chaim Tureff, Rav Beit Sefer and author of “Recovery in the Torah”
According to our tradition, the Torah never brings up superfluous words, even if at the moment it doesn’t seem to make any sense. One might ask what is the point of bringing up Rivka’s lineage after she was to marry Yitzchak. Rashi brings up a Midrash which gives Rivka credit due to her lineage.
Midrash Rabbah notes, “She was the daughter of a wicked man, sister of a wicked man, her native place was one of wicked people, and yet she did not learn from their doings.” Rabbi Yitzchak understood the pasuk from Shir HaShirim, “Like a lily among the thorns…” , as a reference to Rivka due to her ability to overcome the adverse upbringing that she endured, like a lily among thorns.
Those that struggle with addiction and have overcome this can be seen as Rivka. Someone that was filled with a journey of challenges and difficulties and yet was able to overcome them. Although Rivka was not an addict, her perilous position in her life brought its own sense of trials and tribulations. To be able to overcome them, showed an inner strength, resolve, and tenacity that is needed in this uncertain world. When a recovering addict shares their story and from where they were to where they are now, it can show their character and spiritual journey. As Booker T. Washington notes, “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”
Image: “Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well” by Nicolas Poussin, c. 1650
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