Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Chayyei Sarah: Falling

"Vatisa rivka et eneha vatereh et yitschak vatipol me'al hagamal"
(Rivka looked up, saw Yitschak, and fell off the camel -- Bereshit 24:64)

What made Rivka fall off her camel?

Rivka was privy to some of God's secrets, as it is said, "Vatelech lidrosh et Adonai. Vayomer Adonai lah shenei goyyim bevitnech" (She went for an answer from God, who told her: there are two nations in your belly -- Bereshit 25:22-23).

When she saw her promised husband Yitschak, the next fragile link in the chain that began with a covenant between his father Abraham and the one true God, Rivka foresaw that to safeguard its future she would come to pit her children against each other and deceive her spouse. The woman who had generously offered water to quench the thirsts of strangers and their animals knew that one day she would manipulate her family to the brink of murder. In shock, she lost her balance and dropped to the hard earth. Life was easy as a polytheist. But Yitschak's singular deity came with One family, One heritage, One birthright, One morality, One code of behavior, and One mission. And they didn't all mesh properly. There were internal contradictions and moral ambiguities -- the paradoxes of belief and hypocrisy, and the existential paralysis of ethical dilemmas. So Rivka could do nothing but wipe the dust off her clothes and veil her face to hide her tears after falling from her comfortable high seat, for "falling" connotes intrigue, confusion, and disaster, as we see in the Scroll of Ester (3:7)...

"Hipil pur hu hagoral lifnei haman"
(A pur, a lottery, was cast [literally: made to fall] before Haman)


JonahSteinberg said...

That's fantastic. You know, there is a midrash in Bereshit Rabbah 60:15 that seems to have Rivkah falling off her camel because she sees Yitzchak in his divine splendor, perhaps wrapped in his talit (since we're allowed to be anachronistic in midrash)and takes him for an angelic or divine being. The Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah with its odd word, "pilsono," is difficult to interpret, but it seems that Rivkah either mistakes Yitzchak for his own guardian angel or perceives such a heavenly presence with him - "Mi ha'ish halazeh" interpreted as "Mi ha'ish Elav zeh" - who is this man whose El this is? (Some versions read "Alon zeh," 'alon' probably from the Greek "alia' (other), as later commentaries suggest; i.e., Who is this man who is not like other men? Anyhow, you're on to something classically rabbinic here, I think, and, as usual, you give it distinctive new midrashic strength. Yishar!

chillul Who? said...


You know, I wish I had more background in specifically learning midrashim so I could call them up like you are in this comment. :)

(Actually, I guess when we start doing the actual Sefer Ha'Agadah I'll be getting exactly that kind of education)