Susan Barth
Advocate for Marriage Education in Israel

Two Heroines named Rivka – Leaving Legacies of Selfless Devotion

Can you imagine yourself making repeated visits to a well to serve water to 10 thirsty camels and their entourage, or to voluntarily be engaged in cooking and preparing 800 kosher meals a week to “hungry” travelers?

For two extraordinary women named Rivka such acts of selflessness were second nature. These two women share center stage this week by way of the respective mention of each one in connection with our Jewish tradition of reading the weekly Torah portion and commemorating the deaths and yahrzeits of our beloved family members.

Who are these heroines?

The Second Matriarch Rivka

One Rivka is our biblical matriarch whose celebrated first Jewish marriage to our patriarch Isaac was highlighted in this week’s Torah portion of Toldot.

Rivka Holtzberg z”l

The other Rivka is Rivka Holtzberg z”l , the Chabad emissary who along with her husband Gavriel  was brutally murdered on November 26, 2008  (the 28th of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan) in a terrorist attack on their Chabad House in Mumbai, India.

What does the name Rivkah mean?

According to Rabbi Aaron Raskin, in the Mishna, the name Rivka represents a herd of three oxen. In the name you also have the word which means cattle. Rivka has the potential of transformation, to take the most physical animalistic raw material and use it as a vehicle to serve G-d.  And this is why Rivka is more down to earth and mature. She also had tremendous vision beyond her years.

Our Matriarch Rivka

Our first introduction to our matriarch is in last week’s Torah reading of Chayei Sarah, when we read that she passed the test that our patriarch Avraham’s servant Eliezer had envisioned for the suitable match for our patriarch Isaac. The test required the exemplifying of extraordinary kindness by the prospective candidate for matrimony to Isaac. Rivka’s voluntary display of kindness through the running back and forth to refill the watering hole of no less than ten camels left no doubt of her level of generosity and compassion for animals and humans.

According to Rabbi YY Jacobson, in a lecture he delivered entitled: The Psychological Test of Rebecca, what Eliezer saw was a trait of kindness that would become the core of the Jewish people, which is that inner recognition and conviction that the greatest gift in life is the ability to give love, the ability to share, to lift hearts, to ignite souls, to kindle sparks. The ability to give people from yourself, from your wisdom, from your money, from your water, from your resources, from your talent, from your emotion, from yourself. That ability just to be able to give, and not give with expectations, and not give with fears and with concerns is what Eliezer had to know to realize that Rivka is the person for Isaac.

Rabbi Alon Anava further elaborates on the quality of kindness and goodness of Rivka by mentioning that originally Isaac did not intend to bring his wife to be Rivka into his mother Sarah’s tent, but the minute that Rivka got near to the tent, he saw that the three miracle gifts that had symbolized the greatness of his mother, which had disappeared with his mother’s death, suddenly reappeared in Rivka’s merit. Rabbi Anava says that the Torah goes out of its way to emphasize the miraculous acts of Rivka and how amazing she was. The minute she came into the house the house flourished.

Rivka Holtzberg z”l

This week commemorated the eleventh yahrzeit of the terrorist attack that sent shock waves around the world.

Rivka Holtzberg z”l 28 years old at the time of her murder, was the living personification of the name Rivka in every respect. In a two minute video she introduces herself as an emissary of the Lubavitch Rebbe to India, Bombay (changed to Mumbai). She modestly mentions that she and her husband set up an open house for everything Jewish geared to whoever comes in, locals, businessmen, and tourists, who drop in every day. She indicates that they have Torah classes, children’s programs – all in a homey and warm atmosphere.

What she does not mention is the fact that shortly after their marriage in 2001, Gavriel and Rivka, both born in Israel, heeded the call of the Lubavitch Rebbe and cheerfully gave up all the comforts of home and family to move to the remote and challenging country of India just before Chanukah 2003, and in a very short time their home and center became a thriving home of goodness.  Initially they set up the center in a hotel room and began serving Shabbat meals without any real kitchen supplies. After acquiring a six story Chabad House the “Guest list” expanded to serving over 800 meals a week!

Rivka was a certified sweetheart. Gavriel’s mother said that there was no other couple like them. They did so much for strangers. What they accomplished in five years would be the envy of any major corporation!

The Major Contribution of the Two Rivka’s

The convergence of the timing of events that catapulted the two Rivka’s into prominence this week demonstrates the tenacity and courage which our heroines have manifested for the preservation and survival of our Am Yisrael. The sacrifice which they both exhibited to leave their respective homelands in order to be the trailblazers is very poignant on the week where many commemorate Thanksgiving and a week where over 5800 emissaries of the Lubavitch Rebbe met in New York for their Annual conference demonstrating their commitment to not leaving a single Jew behind.

We can only offer our gratitude to those heroines and heroes who continue the mission to bring the Moshiah and who galvanize our people to be united for true shalom starting in our homes and spreading outwards in the spirit of love of our fellow Jews and mankind.

About the Author
Susan Barth is founder and director of Israeli non profit Together in Happiness/B'Yachad B'Osher, promoting stronger, healthier marriages impacting Israeli society. A Project Management Professional (PMP) and businesswoman from the US, Susan sponsored and chaired the First International Conference on Marriage Education in Israel (attended by over 360 professionals) in Jerusalem in memory of her parents and launched I-PREP, an innovative marriage education curriculum. On November 8, 2017, Together in Happiness co-hosted with MK Yehudah Glick a historic Knesset seminar promoting government support for pre-marriage education