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Rebecca's Compassion Sets Admirable Example
In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Toledot, the Torah describes the concern that Isaac and Rebecca share over the future of their family and, ultimately, the longevity of the Jewish people. The couple didn't yet have children, and so wondered how the covenant would continue into another generation. They each prayed to God.
And as it turned out, they had twins, Esau and Jacob; and each would become the progenitor of a nation. Esau's descendants would become the Edomites, while Jacob's would become the Israelites - the Jewish people.
The Torah mentions that Isaac was 40 years old when he and Rebecca were married, and that he was 60 when the children were born. Thus, for 20 years, the two lived alone as a couple, taking care of one another.
Rebecca had already shown her caregiving qualities, as well as her compassion for other people and animals. In last week's portion, Chayei Sarah, the story is told of Abraham's servant going to look for a wife for Isaac.
Rebecca, when meeting the servant, offers him water to drink, and additionally offers to draw water for his camels. This is the quality that indicated to the servant that she was the appropriate match for Isaac. These acts of kindness were an indication of the depth of Rebecca's character.
Later in Toledot, Isaac is described as old, and having difficulty seeing properly. He calls for his son Esau, and reflects on his age and about the fact that he does not know the day that he will die. None of us may know this either, but Isaac's statement sounds like he might die any day, so he asks Esau to bring him special food so that he can give him a blessing.
But Rebecca felt that Jacob should receive the preferred blessing, and so she arranges a switch.
In the end, Jacob does receive the blessing, while Esau receives a lesser one. Esau becomes so angry that he threatens to kill Jacob. Rebecca, concerned for Jacob's safety, arranges for him to go away and stay with her family for a while.
As it turns out, Jacob spends 20 years away from his parents and his brother. Later, in the Torah portion of Vayishlach (in two weeks), the reunion of Jacob and Esau is described. They reconcile and live in different parts of the land on peaceful terms. The Torah mentions that when Isaac died, both Esau and Jacob buried him.
Let us remember that many years earlier, Isaac was already described as old and concerned that he might die any day. Yet he apparently lived much longer, and we would presume that he continued to live in his same state of illness and weakness.
Who took care of him?
Here, again, we see Rebecca's compassion.
The Torah does not mention this part of their life story, but it is reasonable to surmise that Rebecca exerted much effort in taking care of Isaac over the years, and did so in a quiet, loving, caring way without expecting a lot of fanfare.
Perhaps this is one meaning of the Torah's silence on this aspect of their life together. It is also reasonable to presume that Rebecca had assistance from her nurse, Deborah, and together, they ministered to Isaac.
And just as Rebecca made arrangements for the welfare of Abraham's servant and his animals in the beginning of the story - and for Jacob in the middle of the story - so she did for Isaac at the end.
We can all learn about caregiving and compassion for others from Rebecca. It's up to us to follow her example and make her personal qualities part of our own character.
Rabbi Robert Rubin is religious leader of Congregation Beth T'fillah of Overbrook Park.