May this Dvar Torah be a merit for my dear mother, Shaindel Maryam Bas Fulya, for a Refuah Sheleimah Bsoch Sha’ar Cholei Yisroel
We are all aware of the illustrious four imahos, matriarchs, the ‘mothers’ of our nation: Sarah, Rivkah, Rochel and Leah. Yet, surprisingly, rare is the mention in the Torah of this appellation of ‘mother’ being used to describe them.
Sarah is referenced only once as such, when Yitzchok brings his new wife, Rivkah, into the ‘tent of Sarah his mother’. The Torah also records how Reuven brought dudaim, flowers, to ‘Leah his mother’.
Rivkah’s role as a ‘mother’, however, is emphasized nine times.
The first cluster of references is when she directs Yaakov to disguise himself as Esav in order to secure his father’s blessing. ‘Yaakov replied to Rivkah his mother’, sharing his fear he will be revealed and cursed instead. ‘But his mother said to him’ that she will take the curse upon herself. ‘So, he went, fetched and brought to his mother, and his mother prepared the delicacies’.
The second allusion appears in the blessing Yitzchok confers upon him, where he states, “your mother’s sons will prostrate themselves to you.”
Lastly, after Rivkah encourages Yaakov to escape the vengeance of Esav by traveling to her brother Lavan, Yitzchok encourages him to go to the home of Besuel, ‘the father of your mother’, and take a wife from the daughters of Lavan, ‘your mother’s brother’, mentioning as well that Lavan is the brother of Rivkah, ‘the mother of Yaakov and Esav’. It concludes how Yaakov ‘obeyed his father and mother’, heading to Padan Aram.
The Zohar indicates that Rivkah, more than the other matriarchs, had the unique mission to fix the sin of Chava.
The Torah depicts how Yitzchok entreated , ל-י-ה-ו-ה, to G-d, לנכח אשתו, opposite his wife. The last letters in these three words spell, חוה, Chavah, implying that Rivkah was the gilgul, reincarnation of Chavah.
The preparing of the delicacies for Yitzchok was to atone for the feeding of Adam from the Tree of Knowledge, the forbidden fruit.
The deceit utilized in procuring the blessing contrasted with the cunning the snake implemented in coaxing her to sin.
The murderous jealousy that developed between Chavah’s children, Kayin and Hevel, paralleled the struggle between Esav and Yaakov.
To fathom the full mystical implications of these events is beyond our comprehension. But perhaps we can draw from this equation a practical lesson.
Chavah was vulnerable and succumbed to the seduction of the snake. We are also taught that Adam was faulted for expressing to G-d, after being confronted for his sin, “the woman who You gave to be with me — she gave me of the tree”, and taken to task for his ingratitude.
Perhaps it all started with man’s need for validation. A woman who has low self-esteem will be susceptible to outside influence. It was Adam’s lack of appreciation of his remarkable spouse Chavah, that sowed the seeds for her failure.
Rav S.R. Hirsch indicates that Chavah naming her son Kayin for ‘I have acquired a man, with G-d’, was flawed. In his words:
So, the first enthusiasm of the first mother was a raised feeling of self-importance, and the question can arise in our minds whether feeling this feeling does not already show some clouding of the pure conception of motherhood. A mother, standing on the pure height of consciousness of duty, would have thought more of G-d and of the new duties and tasks that come with this gift of G-d, rather than proudly on her own merit.
The great Gaon and Tzaddik, Rav Yehonoson Binyamin of Mittle Apsha, explains that when the Torah describes Yitzchok praying ‘opposite’ Rivkah, ‘and he entreated to G-d’, it means that Yitzchok appealed purely ‘for the sake of G-d’, in contrast to Rivkah who requested a child for her personal fulfillment. When she became pregnant and realized there were two conflicting forces within her, she understood that the negative one stemmed from her. She immediately expressed ‘why am I thus’, fathoming that motherhood is a duty, not an expression of self, and went on ‘to inquire of G-d’, correcting course in appreciating her selfless mission. (לחם אבירים)
Rivkah goes on to utilize her fiery determination to raise these children with one goal in mind, to love them both unconditionally, but maneuvering events to bring about the perfect will of G-d, untainted by an iota of self-interest.
She strives to avoid the pitfall of her predecessor Chavah. Chavah’s initial pride infiltrated to her children developing toward a murderous conclusion. Rivkah hoped that her children though would survive and one day bring about the divine harmony intended for them.
The Targum Yehonoson reveals that when Rivkah urges Yaakov to flee Esav ‘for why should I be bereaved of both of you on the same day?’, she was hoping to stave off the fate of Kayin and Hevel from them, since she was striving to correct the flaw that was the catalyst for their troubled end.
A mother instills within her children confidence by believing in them; by empathizing fully with them; by letting them know her love for them is unconditional. If they sense that, they are more likely to accept reality no matter how painful it may be.
When Yaakov worries that he may fail and be cursed, all he needed to hear was his mother’s sincere sentiment, ‘your curse be on me’. It wasn’t a guarantee that she could absorb the curse in his place, but rather his knowledge that if a curse would befall him it would be no different to Rivkah than if it was placed on her. She would sense his pain with the exact same profundity. She had ‘skin in the game’. That was enough do gain the confidence to undertake the mission, consequences notwithstanding.
When Yitzchok blesses Yaakov that “your mother’s sons (Esav) will prostrate themselves to you”, he was intimating that despite their original hesitation in being subservient to their ‘younger brother’, they would ultimately accept that role, having been infused with an unconditional love of a mother that validated them and truly desired only their best, even if it was not to their liking.
When Yaakov is instructed to flee to the home of his uncle Lavan, the brother of his mother Rivkah, she is noted as the ‘the mother of Yaakov and Esav’. The Torah seeks to underscore, that despite her pride in Yaakov’s accomplishments, she was the loving mother of them both.
I believe even Esav begrudgingly deep down knew that too, as we do not find animosity towards her, on the contrary, Leah bemoaned his death as well, as indicated in the Targum Yehonoson.
Perhaps this might explain Rashi’s cryptic comment on this verse where when it states ‘Rivkah was the mother of Yaakov and Esav’, he adds, איני יודע מה מלמדנו, I do not know what this teaches us.
Maybe Rashi meant simply to say, of course, this is Rivkah, the reincarnation of Chavah, ‘the mother of all the living’, she was most certainly a selfless devoted mother to Yaakov and Esav!
May we appreciate our mothers, and the mothers of our children, who emulate so inspiringly the beautiful character of our beloved matriarch, Rivkah.
צבי יהודה טייכמאן