How They Met

Prev2 of 2Next
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha


On a side note, there is much controversy over Rebecca’s age when the events in this week’s Parsha take place, and she is married to Isaac.

According to several commentaries, she was only three years old(!), which they deduce as follows:

We know from Genesis, 25:20, that Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebecca.

We know that Isaac was 37 years old when he was (almost) sacrificed at the Akeida, since Sarah died (presumably) immediately after that event, she was 127 years old when she died, and she was 90 when Isaac was born.

We assume that when Rebecca’s birth is announced immediately following the Akeida (Genesis, 22:20-23), it’s because she was born then. Therefore she was born when Isaac was 37. Ergo, she was three years old when he married her at age 40.

Having concluded that Rebecca was born when Isaac was 37, the commentaries offer that Isaac waited until she was three before marrying her; then he waited ten years until she was thirteen (and he was 50) before having sexual intercourse; and then waited another ten years for children, at which point both he and Rebecca concluded that something was wrong, and that some serious lobbying would be necessary. See Rashi on Genesis, 25:26.

There are a few aspects view that are difficult to comprehend.

First, when Abraham gives instructions to Eliezer to find a bride for Isaac, he does not mention Rebecca, and there is nothing in his words that suggests that he was thinking specifically of her. To the contrary – his instructions to Eliezer are to find any wife from his birthplace and family. So the idea that Isaac (who was uninvolved in the entire process) “waited” three years for Rebecca is not something that is suggested by a literal interpretation of the verses.

Second, it is difficult to conceive of Rebecca the three-year-old being responsible for drawing her family’s water, or being capable of drawing water for Eliezer, all his men, and all his camels. It is particularly difficult to imagine a three-year-old being lauded and admired for having managed to preserve her chastity for a whole three years (even managing to avoid anal sex!).

But perhaps there are alternative views. The above opinion rests upon two assumptions: (1) that Sarah died immediately after the Akeida, which gives us Isaac’s age; and (2) that Rebecca was born immediately after the Akeida, which gives us Rebecca’s age.

With respect to the former, however, Ramban suggests that the juxtaposition of several of the verses suggests that Sarah may not have died during that period. Sarah died in Chevron (Genesis, 23:2); yet, after the Akeida, Abraham returned to Be’er Sheba (Genesis, 22:19). He would not have returned to Be’er Sheba if that is not where he and Sarah had been living. Could Sarah have possibly died years after the Akeida? Could she have died before the Akeida? (If so, this would answer another interesting anomaly: the absence of Sarah throughout the entire Akeida account. Sarah was a helicopter mom, who even went so far as to have her husband banish Ishmael, lest he be a negative influence or competition to Isaac. Isaac was her only child. And even G-d instructs Abraham to listen to Sarah when it comes to Isaac’s well-being. Is it conceivable, then, that Sarah had nothing to say about the Akeida? No “yay” or “nay”? Was she entirely cut out of the decision-making? Did Abraham not consult with her? Would Torah, which records even Sarah’s laugh when she first hears news of her imminent pregnancy, not see fit to even mention her with respect to the Akeida? Unless she had already passed away…)

With respect to the latter, it is possible that, although Abraham heard the news of Rebecca’s birth after the Akeida, Rebecca may have already been born several years prior. Again, Ramban focuses on the words: “And it came to pass after these matters, that it was told to Abraham saying: ‘Behold Milkah, she also bore sons to Nahor your brother.'” Genesis, 22:20. Why does it say “also”? Ramban explains that, like her sister Sarah, Milkah was no longer a spring chicken, but that G-d made a miracle for her too, like her sister, and in her sister’s merit (see Rabbeinu Bachya), and she too bore children in her old age. If this is true, then perhaps it is possible that the miracle occurred at the same time that Sarah’s miracle occurred – around the birth of Isaac. Indeed, as even Rashi notes (Genesis 21:6), Isaac’s birth was a joyous occasion throughout the world, and many barren women became pregnant in those moments of divine largesse. Perhaps Milkah was one of them, and Abraham simply didn’t hear of it until after the Akeida? After all, he did travel a lot, and may not have been easy to find. Or perhaps he had heard of Rebecca’s birth, but after the Akeida it was suggested to him that her birth may now have significance he had not previously considered, as he seeks a wife for Isaac. This, too, would nullify the above assumption regarding Rebecca’s age, and would answer the questions posed above.

For the biblical scholars among you, it seems a topic worthy of discussion.

Prev2 of 2Next
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse