(Torah Portion: Chayai Sarah) Say That Again! How Old was She?
Our Sages tell us that our matriarch Rivka was three years old when she married Yitzchok. I have heard many times a cynical reaction to this statement, “Come on, rabbi, how is this possible?!”
Let us first explain how the sages derived that Rivka married at three.
Our matriarch Sarah was ninety years old when she gave birth to Yitzchok. In this week’s portion the Torah relates that Sarah died at the age of one hundred and twenty seven.
The Torah records Sarah’s death just after Avraham bound his son Yitzchok to the altar as instructed by G-d. Thus Yitzchok was 37 at the time of the binding and at the time of Sarah’s death.
After the Torah describes the monumental event of the Binding of Yitzchok, it relates that Avraham was informed that his great-niece, Rivka was born.
Yitzchok married at the age of forty which was three years later, thus an easy calculation brings Rivka to age of three when she married.
There are a number of questions that can be asked concerning this calculation. When Avraham’s faithful servant Eliezer traveled to find a wife for Yitzchok, the Torah describes Rivka as a Na’arah – a term that refers to a girl around 12 years old. Also, the Torah relates her great acts of kindness where she personally drew enough water to quench the thirst of 10 camels! This is quite a feat and performance for a three year old! In fact the Medrash places her age at 14 rather than at 3.
Obviously there needs to be some reconciliation between her alleged age and her physical appearance and abilities.
Rabbi Shimon Schwab o.b.m. in his commentary on Torah quotes an insightful and brilliant explanation from Rabbi Michel Farshlager o.b.m. that in my experience has satisfied even the greatest skeptic.
G-d tested Avraham’s faith in Him by asking him to offer his only son Yitzchok upon an altar. Yitzchok willingly obliged to be sacrificed. Even though the deed was not actually done, the impression of the exalted experience remained with Yitzchok throughout his life and he was considered a holy sacrifice. In fact, Yitzchok was not allowed to leave the Land of Israel since sacrificial offerings are not allowed to go beyond the walls of Jerusalem.
Up to that point in time there was no one born on the spiritual level necessary to marry someone as sanctified as Yitzchok.
Our matriarch Sarah’s holy soul departed at the time of the Binding of Yitzchok. Sarah’s soul navigated its way and entered the eleven year old Rivka, whose soul now became a suitable match for Yitzchok. This was the birth which Avraham was notified about.
Rivka’s new soul which made her suitable for Yitzchok was in fact three years old when she married Yitzchok, yet her physical body was that of a teenager!
To concretize this explanation, the Torah tells us that when Yitzchok and Rivka married, they resided in his mother Sarah’s tent. The great commentator Rashi says the following unusual statement, “And in fact she was Sarah his mother.”
Based on this explanation, Rashi is referring to his mother’s soul which Rivka was imbued with!
The Zohar – Kaballa adds an additional fascinating piece of information. When Yitzchok offered himself upon the altar he went through a metamorphosis of souls. The soul that he was endowed with at birth was not fit to produce a child. Through the holy experience of being presented as an offering, he was refreshed with a new soul that had the ability to create a child.
Thus, both Yitzchok and Rivka experienced a renewal of souls enabling them to marry and bear a son, Yaacov, the third of our forefathers.
Wishing you a most uplifting, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks