Parashat Toldot; a love story.
Isaac let out a sigh as another sun, set over his fields on the Judean hillside. He had been holding it in all day, carrying it upon his chest just below his aching heart. Trying not to set thought to it, he buried his tears deep within and went back to tilling the ground before him. He found this to be a comforting pastime, one that kept him far away from Rebecca and the barren look in her eyes; a reflection of her empty womb.
‘Why is God doing this to us?’ he wondered for a brief moment, but then quickly brushed the thought aside and shifted his focus to creating the mound of earth just so, paying incredible attention to the task at hand.
Spending so much time in the field in an attempt to avoid his pain, had immeasurable economic benefits to it. In the last few years, while trying not to think of the child prevented from him, he had slowly massed up a small fortune. The bible would later describe him reaping a hundredfold from what he planted [Genesis 26:12]. While these numbers were exaggerated, put forth by his slaves who wished to glorify him, they were not far off. Perfection, he noted, paid off.
“Master Isaac” a voice called to him, in a tone that indicated that they had called his name more than once. He turned to see his trusted old steward Eliezer, who since Abrahams passing, had come to play more of a father figure to him than a servant.
“Master Isaac”, he called gently to him again — and this time, as they made eye contact, he continued __ “You have been tilling the same mound for over an hour, perhaps it is time you return back to the camp,” he said in a gentle voice, and then, after a moment of silence — driving his point home “The sun is almost gone, it will be dark soon”
Isaac looked out over the hills, silhouetted by the last light of the setting sun, and into the distance, far beyond time, to when his mother passed from this world. He could almost see himself in that spot in the field where he found refuge from the commotions of the camp, a place to grieve alone, far away from the stern looks of his father and the other tribal leaders who seemed to come by death so matter-of-factly. In the conversation that ensued with god that afternoon, he wondered how he was to continue without the woman who had been everything to him. While God did not answer in words, a gentle breeze danced between the sheaves, and as he looked up he saw Eliezer in the distance, returning with his weary long caravan of camels and donkeys from their arduous journey. Knowing Eliezer’s mission, he looked on intently till she appeared before him. At first just an outline of a person, slowly taking shape — as is in most relationships. As her face became recognizable he found himself fascinated by her presence. They looked on into one another’s eyes for quite some time, overwhelmed with unexplained emotion. He was standing on solid ground, and yet his legs went soft and could hardly hold him, she let go of the reigns and a few moments later, lost her footing too and came tumbling down to the ground. In the years that followed they would laugh repeatedly over her supposed clumsiness, even though they both knew that emotion, not dexterity was to blame.
Those first years where happy ones, Rebecca was a dutiful wife, who watched over her Isaac with an extra pair of eyes. She was a fiery woman, who knew the way of the world and Isaac challenged her daily with his gentle honesty and kindness. She admired him for this and he admired her ferocity and passion. Others would chastise him for allowing his wife such a dominant role in their household, but he cared little for their petty ideas. He loved her fully and completely, not by chance would she be the first woman to ever be loved in the biblical narrative. [Genesis 24:67] — He was the quite of her storm; She, the fire of his soul.
Yet, despite their never-ending love to one another, they were denied the love of a child. Day in and day out, year after year, they prayed that God would grant them with the blessing that stood against all other blessings — but to no avail. As time passed, the lack of child put a distance between the loving couple. Isaac secretly wondered if it was her age, much like his parents, Rebecca was a number of years older than himself. Would they too need a miracle for a child to be born? Would God grant them this miracle? Would he need to find a younger and more fertile wife? He hustled and put intention into his step. He did not want to entertain such betrayal in his thought, but it showed it’s ugly head, and with it so did the answer to his problem become increasingly clear.
Soon he was back at the camp, and he headed directly to Rebecca’s tent. He found her only partially decent and she turned around, quite surprised by his sudden appearance. They had been keeping their distance from one another and Rebecca knew it was only a matter of time before she would be replaced by a younger, more suitable wife. Issac entered like a storm, he came straight for her and embraced her in his arms, kissing her passionately as he held her close.
“I thought you were going to replace me with another” she whispered, her face touching his ever so gently
“Never” he replied.
“And the child?” she inquired.
“God will bless us when we are deserving of it”
She began to cry, running her hands along his face and neck. Her tears brought out the emotion in him as well. They both fell to their knees, holding one another in the middle of the tent. Their foreheads rested one upon the other, the tears continued to flow, as the purist more heartfelt prayer left their sobbing lips. They sat there for a while, kneeling before God and one another. In later generations, the Rabbis would give a dated interpretation to this act of beauty. They would say that when ‘Isaac prayed opposite (or in the presence of) his wife before the lord’ [Genesis 25:21] the word נוכח — Nochach (Which can also be translated as ‘opposed’) was intended to show that Rebecca spoke opposite words, that she was conniving and deceitful while Isaac’s prayer was pure and simple. In doing so they reflected a common paternalistic attitude of some medieval rabbis towards women. But Isaac did not know of this, nor had he ever viewed his wife in such terms. Had any of these interpretations ever come to his attention, they would have angered him greatly. But it was his fortune to be long gone before such nonsense would be uttered about his wonderful Rebecca.
The embrace continued in what seemed like an eternity and before long, the pleading words before god turned into acts of love. He removed what little clothing she still had on and she pulled him passionately towards her.
Isaac knew Rebecca, Rebecca knew Isaac— they both knew God.
In an act of adulation and prayer, they became one before the lord. A couple entangled in love, sweat, and tears. In the years to follow, Rebecca would tingle at the site of Esav and Jacob. They reminded her of that beautiful night that brought them life. Each one of them embodied an emotion from that wonderful night; Jacob the purity of prayer, Esav the passion of love.
At times, she would catch Isaac looking at them in that very same way. When this happened, she would hold his gaze, and when their eyes met over the playing children, they would, for an instant, hold the happiness of an entire universe in their respective smiles, and re-live that blissful moment once again.