Parshat Chayei Sarah

Torah Reading for Week of November 8-14, 2020
“Rebekah’s Well-ness”
By Cantor Rebekah Mirsky, ’10
The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.
“Let the maiden to who I say, “Please, lower your jar so that I may drink, and who replies
“Drink, and I will also water your camels”-let her be the one whom You have decreed for your
Servant Isaac, Thereby I shall know that You have dealt graciously with my master” Gen. 24:14
It was April of 1976 and I was 12 years old when I became bat mitzvah.
Chayei Sarah was my torah portion- which doesn’t make sense to most people because obviously Bereishit is not read in April.
However, my father was a progressive reform rabbi and he wanted my portion to have meaning to me. So, because he so loved the story of my name sake Rebekah this is the parsha that I chanted, and I never forgot it. So, when offered an opportunity to write a new drash, some 43 years later, I thought it fortuitous.
Now I will return to the be’er, the well, the source of nurturing and clarity to take a better look at the Rebekah of old and also this Rebekah. As my esteemed colleague Rabbi Birdie Becker states in her book Conversations at the Well:
“Teaching, especially a self teaching requires an investment of energy. It is only through such effort, when one encounters the be’er that an individual will experience transformation.
I took it so to heart that Rebekah’s claim to fame, other than her astounded beauty and virginal status, was her generosity. It was the fact that she was willing to water all of the camels that got her the prize – the gold rings and the handsome husband.
And because I was 12 and because I had the particular family life that I had, I interpreted along with other examples in my life was that the way to get my needs met was to give -but not just give, give more of myself than was comfortable, give more of myself than what was authentic.
For years I applied this formula in relationships and jobs and for and for years I thought it was working.
And then suddenly it stopped working. I didn’t understand the difference between authentic giving and manipulative giving.
When I joined in Alanon (a support group for people who loved someone whose drinking bothered them) I learned the phrase “for fun and for free” this meant giving without the expectation that you would get something in return. This was a revelation.
I am not suggesting that Rebekah had ulterior motives. I don’t know and the story does not suggest that she was anything but purely generous. It’s just that my young mind perceived that was how you got the things that you wanted, to take care of others.
These days before I go out of my way to do something, I ask myself why I am doing it.
I check my motives. Will I be upset if it’s not reciprocated? What are my expectations when I give a compliment, a gift, cook a meal, give money, offer a ride etc.
I would be remiss in not mentioning that I do believe it is women who are most often taught that giving of herself is what makes her an “Aishet Chayil” a woman of valor.
It is worth noting here that not only was Rebekah generous and beautiful but apparently, she was also physically very strong in order to bend down and water all of those camels!
At twelve I guess I didn’t focus on that part – she was no damsel in distress. She was capable and she was strong. Jacob and all 10 camels were watered. Rebekah was the nurturer, so she did not receive nurturing but did indeed transform from a daughter to a wife. Still I ask, did she learn to take care of herself?
I think it’s incumbent upon us to look inside and ask yourself the question, “Am I being authentic or am I doing what I think I need to do to get my needs met?” Can I take time to self-nurture while I am attempting to take care of others? And If indeed I do not take time for myself at the metaphorical well to replenish, what will be the consequences?
“Now my son, listen carefully as I instruct you” (Gen 27:8)
As Rebekah grew older and perhaps wiser, she resorted to trickery and deceit in order that Isaac would bless Jacob instead of Esau. It made poor blind Isaac furious.
It has me wondering, was the generosity, the innocence gone? Why did she not authentically plead her case to Isaac? Perhaps she became resentful from years of inauthentic giving or not enough self-care. Maybe Rebekah was never authentically generous but only knew how to survive using deceit and manipulation rather than stating her needs.
Of course, this is all conjecture and it is maybe projection.
I wonder how many of us, particularly woman, (hopefully less now in generations after mine), have been confused about why they do what they do, have automatically given up parts of themselves rather than speak of the truth of who they are, what they think and what they need.
I don’t dislike Rebekah by any means but see her as a woman of her time who had a vision of what she wanted and found ways to get those things.
I know that I personally paid a high price for over giving and keeping my needs in check. I have given to my own peril and then found myself being resentful and short with others. I forget to take care of my anxiety or my hunger or exhaustion. I overcompensated for my insecurity by working too hard and then felt under-appreciated.
I am older and wiser and maybe a little braver than I was when I was 12 and I try not to be mindful of my motives and on a good week I remember that taking time to pray, to meditate, to walk in nature or take a yoga class will fill up my well, so that I may nurture others. I don’t always succeed, because but it’s a good start. I also believe that nurturing another is one of the most wonderful meaningful parts of our lives. So, I am certainly not suggesting that we don’t do that! I merely suggesting that we all need to find our well and drink our portion.
May we all be internally and externally rewarded for authenticity, and may we all allow ourselves precious time to go back to the well, wherever you may find it.