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THE ULTIMATE PRAISE

by Michael Alterman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

The selection of Rebecca to be Isaac's wife was described at great length in last week's Torah portion. We read how Abraham's trusted servant, Eliezer, traveled to his master's homeland and family in search of a woman worthy to be the second of our great Imahot (Matriarchs).

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The selection of Rebecca to be Isaac's wife was described at great length in last week's Torah portion. We read how Abraham's trusted servant, Eliezer, traveled to his master's homeland and family in search of a woman worthy to be the second of our great Imahot (Matriarchs). Along the way, we were given an insider's look into Rebecca's family, including her father, Betuel, and her brother, Laban.

It is therefore surprising to find that the Torah once again introduces us to Rebecca at the beginning of this week's portion: "Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebecca, daughter of Betuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram, sister of Laban the Aramean, as a wife for himself" (Genesis 25:20). Why must the Torah inform us once again of Rebecca's lineage? Bothered by the repetitive nature of this verse, Rashi, the fundamental Torah commentator, explains that the Torah seeks to praise Rebecca: Although she came from the corrupt land of Paddan Aram; and although her father was the evil Betuel; and although her brother was the sinister Laban, who will distinguish himself in next week's portion for his incredible dishonesty - Rebecca was still able to raise herself up from her surroundings to become one of the Imahot and a progenitor of the Jewish people.

If we carefully consider this comment of Rashi, says Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz, a great teacher of Torah more than sixty years ago, we can uncover a tremendous message about what the Torah views to be true accomplishment and success. Rebecca had numerous wonderful character traits, including her remarkable attribute of chesed (loving kindness) as displayed in last week's portion, when she went out of her way in heroic fashion to take care of the needs of Eliezer and the rest of his entourage. Yet, when the Torah wants to pay her the ultimate compliment and praise, it highlights her background and declares that despite her upbringing, she still rose to the great spiritual heights of becoming one of the Imahot. If anybody could look at themselves as being in a spiritually hopeless situation, it was Rebecca who grew up in an environment of idolatry, full of horrible influences even in her own home. Nevertheless, she did not learn from their evil ways, and instead developed herself to the point that she could marry someone like Isaac. This, the Torah says, is truly remarkable.

Living in the United States of 1997, a society of people whose ideologies and priorities are far from Jewish, we must continually struggle to maintain our G-dly heritage and act based on the path of righteousness delineated in the Torah. Of course it is difficult, but latent within us are the wonderful character traits of our great predecessors. The Patriarchs and Matriarchs instilled into the Jewish psyche the ability to pass the numerous tests that come our way throughout history. Thanks to our great mother Rebecca, we have the ability to escape from the anti-Torah attitudes of the society around us. If we do so, we will become worthy of the ultimate praise.

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Michael Alterman, a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is enrolled in a joint program with Ner Israel Rabbinical College and Johns Hopkins University, both in Baltimore.

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