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Parashat Chayei Sarah: An Arresting Image of Rebekah and Isaac’s Initial Meeting

Dr. Shulamit Laderman utilizes the mesmerizing images and midrash of Avner Moriah’s Chayei Sarah-1 painting to describe the details and meaning of Rebekah and Isaac’s initial historic meeting.

Last week, we read the dramatic Akedah  story and we heard God’s promise to Abraham – “I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven” (Gen. 22:17). In our Parasha Chai Sarah, Abraham just lost his wife Sarah and now he must take charge to fulfill this promise – he must find a wife for Isaac.

Not wanting Isaac to wed from among, “the daughters of the Canaanites” (Gen. 24:3), he asks his trusted servant to go to his family in Aram-Naharaim to choose a bride.

Why is Abraham sending his servant and not Isaac himself? What can we learn about Isaac and Rebekah from the biblical description of their meeting? How is the description of this meeting significant for continuing Abraham’s mission?

Avner Moriah’s portrayal for Chayei Sarah offers an interesting visual artistic interpretation to all these queries.

In the picture we see two camels against a background of green and light- and dark-blue barren mountains that shed a purple shadow under the late afternoon sun. The small figure of Isaac with a staff in his hand is seen in the far distance, standing in front of Sarah’s tent. Isaac himself seems to be a self-effacing figure, a sort of a passive bridge between his father, Abraham, and his son Jacob, a puzzling and not clearly defined personality.

We are told that Isaac came from the way of Beer-lahai-roi; for he dwelt in the land of the South. “(Gen. 24:62), the hills in the picture resemble the hills of Edom in the south. Describing the meeting the text notes that Isaac “went out walking in the field toward evening” (Gen. 24:63), and he “lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming” (Gen. 24:63). He sees the camels but perhaps does not realize that one of them carries Rebekah.

She, on the other hand, having left her family and her home, is very anxious to meet her future husband. Seeing the distant figure seems to her to be a sign of welcome and, “she alighted from the camel” (Gen 24:64). As excited and anxious as Rebekah, her two maids are standing (rather than sitting) on the back of a second camel to get a better look at the distant figure.

Standing near the camel and next to the servant (perhaps even touching his arm), Rebekah asks: “Who is that man walking in the field toward us?” and the servant answers: “That is my master” (Gen. 24:65). She knows then that she has arrived in Canaan, as the servant told her family that Abraham determined that Isaac should never be taken outside of the land of Caanan, which is why she had to be brought to him (Gen. 24:8).

Rebekah, the servant, the maids, and the camels all cast shadows on the ground in front of them, which creates a realistic picture of the time of day, “toward evening,” but the figure of Isaac in the distance has no shadow. Knowing that Isaac is meditating in the field and seeing him in the distance without a shadow suggests that he is somewhat disconnected from their reality.

What the artist has visualized here is Rebekah staging her own “Lekh Lekha” (“Get thee out of thy country”) journey in order to continue Abraham’s divine task and mission. In her active engagement Rebekah stands in contrast to a passive contemplative Isaac, who takes notice of her and brings her into his mother‘s tent only after “the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done” (Gen. 24:66).

Even so, it is clear that in his own way Isaac understands his destined role in the furtherance of his father’s mission.

The conclusion of the parashah notes three successive steps regarding the meeting between Isaac and Rebekah. He brings her to his mother’s tent and marries her, he loves her and only then he is comforted in the loss of his mother.

 

Dr. Shula Laderman worked for many years as a computer programmer and planner at Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem. While working there, she studied at  the Hebrew University in Jerusalem towards her Ph.D.,  which she received in  2000. Her topic of research is the “Artist as an Interpreter” – visual interpretation of the Bible in Jewish and Christian Art. She is the author of: Images of Cosmology in Jewish and Byzantine Art- God’s Blueprint of Creation and is co-author with the artist Avner Moriah of: The Illuminated Torah. She taught for many years at Bar Ilan University as well as at the Schechter Institute, where she continues to teach in the Judaism and the Arts track (which she directed in the past).

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