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How Rebecca Learned to Fly

How Rebecca Learned to Fly


We all have limitations. Some of us are stagnating, feeling unable to overcome the hurdles life has placed in front of us. Some of us thrive as a result of a challenging environment—our struggles refine our characters and make us even greater people. And sometimes, no matter what we do, we cannot seem to rise above the circumstances of our birth. Alone, we do not know how to harness the necessary tools to arrive at the next level of our spiritual journey.

A person in this situation must decide: do I stay where I am, unfulfilled yet knowing I tried my best; or do I seek help, do I attach myself to someone who can see beyond my limited vision and allow them to pull me up with them?

Some of us thrive as a result of a challenging environment

As much as we know we need to constantly strive, reaching out to someone else to help enable us to reach our spiritual potential takes a great deal of humility, especially if that person is your husband. This was the case with Rebecca and Isaac early on in their marriage.

The first two sentences of our Torah portion, Toldot, inform us of the familial relationships of Isaac and Rebecca:

Verse 19: These are the descendants of Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac.

Verse 20: Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebecca, the daughter of Betuel the Aramean, of Padan Aram, the sister of Lavan the Aramean, for a wife.

We are well aware of Abraham’s righteousness, but who were Betuel the Aramean and Lavan the Aramean? We will become all too familiar with Lavan and his evil ways in the Torah portions of the coming weeks. The Midrash relates to us stories of Betuel’s evil doings as well. Despite this negative family environment, last week we read just how far Rebecca’s chessed (lovingkindness) extended with regard to Abraham’s servant Eliezer, when she watered all of his camels for him. Rashi tells us that the only reason Rebecca’s lineage is mentioned here is to praise her: “She was the daughter of an evil person, the sister of an evil person, from a place of evil people, and yet she did not learn their deeds.” She clearly rose above and beyond the circumstances of her birth!

Her limitations, however, become apparent in the next sentence:

Verse 21: Isaac prayed to G‑d on behalf of his wife, for she was barren. G‑d granted his prayer and his wife, Rebecca, conceived.

Is it possible, as the verse implies, that only Isaac prayed for their ability to conceive? Can you imagine a woman struggling with infertility not pouring her heart out in her own prayers? Rashi assures us that she most definitely prayed as well. Based on the Talmud, Rashi illustrates for us how they each stood in their own corner and prayed to G‑d to be blessed with a child. Yet, even though Rebecca was proactive and they worked together as a couple to overcome their difficulties, the text begs the question: why is Isaac’s prayer the only one mentioned and the only one explicitly answered?

Rashi’s explanation provides its own set of questions: “The Torah says ‘his prayer’ and not 'her prayer.' This is because the prayer of a tzaddik (a righteous person) who is also the child of a tzaddik is not the same as the prayer of a tzaddik who is the child of a wicked person.”

What limited Rebecca was actually thinking she had limitations

Is Rashi telling us that there is a qualitative difference in the prayers of Rebecca and Isaac? Actually, yes. Rebecca thought she had limitations. She did not grow up in a home of G‑d-fearing people. While she was born with certain innate qualities, she had to make a conscious effort to be good and do the right thing, constantly battling the norms surrounding her. Isaac was surrounded from his time in the womb with righteous people. There was nothing to slow down his rise to great spiritual heights. There was only encouragement and continued growth. How could Rebecca’s prayer ever match that of her husband?

What limited Rebecca was actually thinking she had limitations. While Rebecca was praying to G‑d on behalf of her husband’s illustrious lineage, Isaac was praying on behalf of her incredible growth and continued potential! He said to G‑d, “Please, G‑d, my wife grew up in the home of such wicked people as Betuel and Lavan, yet she is so righteous. She certainly deserves to be blessed with a child.”1

The Torah is telling us that Isaac’s prayer was the only one explicitly accepted not because of who he was, but because of who Rebecca was. Rebecca’s prayer was ineffective because she did not have enough trust in her own qualities and her own ability to achieve greatness. She could not achieve her proper role until she was able to see herself through her husband’s eyes, that she was a woman with the innate capability to reach tremendous spiritual heights both because of and in spite of her background!

Just as Isaac was able to look beyond Rebecca’s background to see the amazing qualities that would make her his ideal partner in forging the Jewish people, Rebecca was able to see how Isaac would help her to achieve what she could not do alone. He, with his pure upbringing, could open her mind to the spiritual heights she was capable of, but not fully aware of because of her background. He also knew that because of where she came from and how she was raised, she had traversed many more miles of spiritual growth than he would ever experience. With these mutual feelings of humility and respect, they were blessed with a child.

So, we learn that often, to truly know who we are and what we are capable of, we have to see ourselves through the eyes of another. And that ultimately, the only limitations we really have are the ones we put on ourselves.

Vedibarta Bam, Rabbi Bogomilsky
Stacey Goldman teaches Torah in the Philadelphia area while raising a houseful of boys.
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randi Freedman USA November 12, 2015

whos prayer is of worth To say Rebecca's prayers went unheeded because she grew up in a home of faithless is biased or cruel. To put one person's piety below another's is say the least. Suppose G-D to be that way? Maybe He is maybe He isn't. He judges all. Reply

Yael Rachel uk September 6, 2014

Fantastic ! Amazing insight into beloved Rebecca. Thank you so much for sharing this. Reply

Leeba Brooklyn November 1, 2013

Powerful Stuff Thank you Stacey for such an inspirational and powerful article. Reply

Sudheesh babu January 10, 2013

Tanks This is new revalation in my life, thank you

Kerala, india Reply

Snyh Ntn Selma, AL November 17, 2012

OMG OMG...truly GREAT article and perspective...thankyou!!! Reply

Joyce Cherry Hill, NJ November 16, 2012

You were born to teach! What a great perspective on acknowledging our own limitations and learning about the beauty of davening on behalf of someone else. Thank you for this lovely essay which is beautifully written. Reply

Casey Phoenix, Az November 14, 2012

I too grew up in a family with lots of problems. It seemed as if the only one who knew how to pray and what to do was my Father. I learnd so much from him by watching him as he brought us to G-d When I lost my son to infant death syndrome they said I would never conceive again. I ask my father to pray with me. One yr later I had a son and named him Joshua, my daughter Angeleigha was born 13 years later the day after my father had died from a stroke. Amazing things can happen when you least expect them to if you have faith and beleive. Reply

Andrea St. Petersburg, FL October 22, 2012

Loved the article! my favorite part is this: "Rebecca’s prayer was ineffective because she did not have enough trust in her own qualities and her own ability to achieve greatness. She could not achieve her proper role until she was able to see herself through her husband’s eyes, that she was a woman with the innate capability to reach tremendous spiritual heights both because of and in spite of her background!" P O W E R F U L..... Reply

Rebecca grottoes December 11, 2011

I like the Hebrew name Rivka better. I can totally identify with her. My family gets on my nerves with their ways, and I have grown up in a society that I feel is corrupt. I've had to learn the hard way that I have been given amazing potential when it comes to my emotions and overcoming limitations. I have also been deemed as "infertal". We will see. As far as religions and husbands I've always been obsessed with twins and my favorite flower is a rose. I love how metaphoric the rose is. Interesting to find the rose metaphor in Rivka's story. Reply

Frances Los Angeles, Calif December 1, 2011

Rebecca I have to see myself threw G-ds eyes, an the way that he sees me, an forget who I was in the past Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn, NY November 21, 2011

source Can you please give us the source from the Rebbe for this explanation? Thank you. Reply

Ira Philadelphia, PA November 20, 2011

Inspiring! Stacey, every year I look forward to reading this! Reply

Lisa Aubert Long Beach, CA November 18, 2011

Rebecca flying Bravo! As a person who always felt alone and isolated since childhood, I struggled against negative limited thoughts of myself and from those surrounding me. It kept me bound and locked up for so long. Growing up, I learned not to trust people yet when I came into the knowledge of G-d, I began to understand the unlimited potential He has placed in me. The world may never understand the value of a being but truly G-d always does. Thank you for the article! Reply

Frances Da Gama Los Angeles, California November 9, 2010

Thanks! Thank you so very much! Reply

Sarah Ruth olney, md November 5, 2010

Thank you for such a beautifully written essay. I agree with Chana Batya - you have also given me another perspective on Rachel & Isaac. Reply

Chana Batya Corvallis,, OR November 2, 2010

You have given me another perspective on Rachel and Isaac.

Thank you so much. Reply

frances de Gama holllywood, calif February 4, 2010

Seeing ourselves threw the eyes of G-d Can you teach us more on this? How does G-d see us? Reply

Dorothy Vickers Nottingham, U. K. November 29, 2008

Rebecca: Flying A non Jew.this life, yet one in the Faith; I have earnestly felt the Presence of the Shekinah since a child, but in moments only until abouy 34 when my true life began, in private in the little kitchen of my caravan. .the religion of the heart will never die. Thank you for your endeavours. One in Yoga and Zen also. Reply

Ruth Rachel Anderson-Avraham Norfolk, Virginia via November 28, 2008

Thank you so much for such a beautiful article.

May it encourage us to place trust in Hashem, to look beyond another's life challenges and limitations, to see their positive qualities and strengths and the beauty of Hashem's potential and intended purpose for them.

You have given me a new way of understanding Rebecca's story, and it speaks to my own life very deeply. I have had a beautiful life (and love my life in spite of its obstacles - L'Chaim!), precisely because I was encouraged to move beyond life's challenges by loving parents who worked very hard to provide a better life for their children than they had and by very special people who saw the potential and beautiful qualities inside of me, and enouraged me to have faith in Hashem in order to fulfill my life's purpose - and for this I am very grateful. Baruch Hashem! (Thank G-d) Reply

Anonymous November 24, 2008

How Rebecca Learned to Fly Yasher Koach! (Way to go!) I, too, am a Rivka, and this piece resonated so much with me that it brought me to tears. Thank you for the insight. Reply

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