Michele Braun
Life Member, Hadassah Westchester

Rebekah’s Choice

Artwork courtesy of Hadassah.
Artwork courtesy of Hadassah.

What is an individual’s obligation to make God’s assertions come true?

For Rebekah, the second biblical matriarch, the answer was easy, even if it required a bit of subterfuge.

The book of Genesis brings us into the time of the biblical matriarchs and patriarchs, when God spoke to people, appeared in their dreams, sent special emissaries (e.g., angels) and intervened directly in human events.

Sometimes, God’s instructions were clear and specific, such as those to Avram to “Go forth from your native land… to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).

But what if the message wasn’t quite so clear?

Finding herself suffering with a difficult pregnancy, Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, seeking either solace or information, “went to inquire of the Lord” and God responded (Genesis 25:22-23):

Two nations are in your womb,
Two separate peoples shall issue from your body;
One people shall be mightier than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.

Thus Rebekah learned that she was carrying twins. She learned also that the younger twin would eventually dominate and fare better than the older one, although primary inheritance rights traditionally would have been granted to the first-born male.

Why did God reveal that information to Rebekah? In literature, such a revelation might be considered foreshadowing — providing a glimpse of what’s to come. But is this explanation sufficient here? Perhaps this glimpse of the future was meant to tell Rebekah not to worry if Jacob, the “younger” son, outdistanced Esau at some point. Or perhaps God’s assertion was a subtle direction to Rebekah that she should ensure Jacob’s emergence as the favored son.

We know from Genesis 27 that, ultimately, as Isaac’s health declined, Rebekah acted assertively to gain the primary inheritance for Jacob. When Isaac asked Esau to prepare a favorite meat dish, Esau went hunting. Meanwhile, Rebekah prepared a stew with meat from an animal in the family’s herd for Jacob to bring to Isaac. She dressed Jacob in the animal’s pelt to simulate Esau’s hairy arms and fool the now blind Isaac into believing Jacob was Esau.

The ruse worked. Isaac blessed Jacob, passing his inheritance to his second son, instead of the intended first child.

Did Rebekah do the right thing? Pondering God’s earlier revelation that “the older shall serve the younger,” Rebekah might have wondered whether she was supposed to trust that God would ensure Jacob’s success or whether she should take steps to ensure the foreshadowed outcome. But wavering was not in Rebekah’s nature. Rather, her history showed that she decided and acted quickly.

Artwork courtesy of Hadassah.

Earlier in the text, for example, we learn that when Rebekah was approached by a stranger, she immediately provided him with hospitality. She gave water to him and his camels (Genesis 24:17-20). That stranger turned out to be a trusted servant of Abraham, tasked to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac.

Rebekah’s brother, Laban, readily offered her in marriage, but then advised Abraham’s servant that there needed to be at least a 10-day delay. When the servant objected, Laban asked Rebekah for her opinion. Rebekah’s response was immediate. When asked “Will you go with this man?” she said, “I will.” Immediately after that, “Rebekah rose, with her young women, and they mounted the camels and went” to Abraham’s and Isaac’s encampment in the Negev (Genesis 24:57, 61-62).

In gaining greater status for Jacob, however, Rebekah intentionally deceived Isaac, engaged their son Jacob in the deceit, and betrayed Esau. Was it God’s revelation “the older shall serve the younger” that prompted Rebekah to deceive Isaac? If Rebekah had not interfered, would things have turned out differently? Might God have found another means to promote Jacob over Esau so that Jacob would still become the revered patriarch and his children the namesakes of the twelve tribes of Israel? (Later chapters show that Esau also became a successful tribal leader.)

To all these questions I have no answers, but I admire Rebekah’s confidence. While I’m not sure she acted appropriately, I do, like Rebekah, believe that helping children succeed is important—all children. That’s why I am drawn to support Hadassah’s Youth Aliyah villages in Israel, where at-risk children receive the support they need to become successful members of Israeli society.

What do you think an individual’s role should be, today, in making God’s assertions and predictions come true? What is our responsibility in making God’s will happen?

About the Author
Michele Braun, a life member, Elana Chapter, Hadassah Westchester Region, is a member of the Hadassah Writers' Circle. She provides adult Jewish education classes and consulting services to synagogues and community organizations. Her life-long journey through Jewish learning began in the first-ever nursery school class of Temple Emanuel in San Jose, CA. In some form, she has been a student of Jewish life and texts ever since. Michele earned a bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University and an MS in Public Management and Policy from Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. Following a career in public policy with the Federal Reserve System, Michele returned to graduate school, earning an MA in Jewish Education from Hebrew University in 2022 and launching a new career in adult education. Topics of particular interest include Contemporary Torah Study, Jewish Textile Art as Modern Midrash, and making mainstream classrooms more accessible to students with disabilities. Michele and her husband, Norman Bernstein, live in Pound Ridge, NY. Their daughter, S. Judith Bernstein, recently published "In Shadowed Dreams," a novella.
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