What is the meaning of my name, Rebecca?


Rebecca, or Rivka in Hebrew, was the second matriarch of the Jewish nation. Although she grew up in Padan Aram, amongst pagans, she remained righteous and pure. Our sages applied to her the verse (Song of Songs 2:2): “As a rose among the thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters.” She married our patriarch Isaac, and gave birth to Esau and Jacob. It was she who orchestrated Jacob’s obtaining Isaac’s blessings (as described in Genesis 27).

Most importantly, as one of our matriarchs, her character is part of the spiritual genes that make us who we are.

Although the meaning of her name is not explained in the Written Torah, the Mishnah in tractate Eruvin uses the word revakot, the plural of rivkah, to describe “teams of cattle.”

The chassidic masters explain that becoming a “team of cattle” is a very Jewish aspiration, one that we can accomplish only because of the special soul-powers with which Rebecca endowed us all. We all have two distinct souls and consciousnesses animating our bodies: an “animal soul” and a “G‑dly soul.” The animal soul is driven by self-centeredness; the G‑dly soul, by the selfless quest to serve the Almighty.

Each of these souls has its own intellectual and emotional faculties, from creative wisdom to focused concentration, from discipline to loving and generous kindness. The difference is that all the emotional faculties of the G‑dly soul are dominated by the mind. As such, notwithstanding their extreme differences, the emotional faculties work together in harmony; they complement each other. Wisdom engenders compromise and cohesion. The animal soul, by contrast, due to its self-centered nature, is dominated by its emotions and impulses. Each one of these emotions operates independently of the others; they do not complement each other to work as a cohesive whole.

This condition, however, is not unchangeable. The mission of the G‑dly soul is to channel and focus the animal soul’s emotions toward its—the G‑dly soul’s—interest, the service of G‑d. (For more on this topic, see The Wild Horse.) When this is achieved, these formerly independent animalistic emotions can now unite, forming a harmony, or in the words of the Mishnah, “a team of cattle.”

This ability, writes Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chassidism, is the gift bequeathed by Matriarch Rebecca to her offspring—every child of the Jewish nation.

The fact that you were given this name indicates that you have tremendous potential, the ability to live up to your namesake. Yes, we all are Rebecca’s children, but an individual who carries her name has a greater measure of her unique strength. Start now, by adding one more mitzvah to your daily schedule, transforming darkness to light, divisiveness to unity.

Best wishes,
Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson