Double Mitzvah – Chayyei Sarah

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Maya B. Alma. Maya B. Alma is Jewrotica’s new Double Mitzvah columnist!

Check out last week’s column, Double Mitzvah – Vayera.

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Rated PGThere is a scene in this week’s parashah, Chayyei Sarah, that has always delighted me. It’s the love-at-first-sight meeting between Isaac and Rebekah, and the Torah tells it like this:

Isaac had just come back from the vicinity of Beer-lahai-roi, for he was settled in the region of the Negeb. And Isaac went out walking in the field toward evening and, looking up, he saw camels approaching. Raising her eyes, Rebekah saw Isaac.Vatipol me’al hagamal, and said to the servant, “Who is that man walking in the field toward us?” And the servant said, “That is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebekah as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death (Gen 24:62-67).

The Hebrew left untranslated above, vatipol me’al hagamal, can be read in two very different ways. On the one hand, it might mean that she fell off the camel. That’s the basic meaning of the verb nafal. Heard this way, Rebekah’s falling off the camel evokes love, surprise, and yes, humor. But our traditional commentators (Rashi, Rashbam, ibn Ezra, Radak, Bechor Shor, Ralbag) all explain that Rebekah’s dismounting from the camel was purposeful, and done out of modesty and propriety. Most translations follow them, and have Rebekah alighting from the camel. Not as funny…but also quite beautiful. And a reminder that, sometimes, less is more.

So which is it? Did she fall, or did she climb down? In my own head, the facts are unclear, clouded by memory. I can imagine Isaac and Rebekah as two old folks telling the story in the practiced way that couples do (think about these vignettes to get yourself in the mood). The dialogue goes like this:

“I was out walking in the field. It wasn’t long after my mother had died. I was sad, and I was lonely.
“And I was on a camel, on the way to meet him. Days and days, crossing the desert to meet the man I would marry.”
“It was one of those moments…I can remember it like it happened yesterday. I looked up toward the sound of camels. This was back before my eyes went bad. I looked up, and there she was.”
And I looked up at the very same moment. Our eyes met, locked on each other.”
“And then…she fell right off the camel.”
“Oh Isaac, I got off the camel! You know that. I alit from the camel.”
“Please, Becky, I was there. You couldn’t stand how handsome I was, and you fell right off. And then you wrapped yourself up in a shmatte, and got all shy.”
“Fine, Isaac, you can tell it your way…this time.”
And the two of them laugh.

Isaac’s dim eyes smile to remember Rebekah falling for him; Rebekah remembers it a little differently. But there’s no dispute about what happened next…

“And we entered the tent, and she became my wife.”
“Yes, I became his wife.”
“And I loved her.”
“And I loved him.”
“And it was…comforting.”
(The couple smiles.)

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  • Ayo Oppenheimer

    This is precious. That you could make our ancestors come alive by expanding on the imagery of just one phrase of one verse is fantastic. Thank you!

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