In this week’s parsha, Sarah, the spiritual mother of all Jews and particularly of converts, dies and is the first person to be buried in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the only piece of the land promised to Abraham that he would actually own in his lifetime, but a promise for more. Rivka is brought to Yitzhak to be his wife and sees him in the field and in what is one of the most romantic passages of Torah, they experience a Hollywood-like moment of “love at first sight.”
There is a Midrash that tells of Yitzhak bringing Rivka into his mother Sarah’s tent, to show her the example of Jewish womanhood that she needs to follow. We aren’t told much about Rivkah’s upbringing directly in the written Torah, but midrash tells us that her father was a wicked man, even attempting to poison Eliezar. She wasn’t raised to be what she became, but somehow, she grows to be a young woman thoughtful and kind, bringing not only water for Eliezar, but also his animals. It seems like Rivka might often have felt out of place in her own family, as if she never quite belonged and longing to be with people she felt more at ease among. Rivka leaves her own people to travel to meet Yitzhak, leaving her old life behind.
Still, I can’t help but wonder what it must have been like to stand in Sarah’s tent after her recent passing, realizing that you now have to continue what this great woman began. Sarah was uniquely gifted in prophecy, even more so than Avraham, and was renowned for her beauty. Even Hashem himself counselled Avraham to listen to his wife. She bore great influence with him and undoubtedly began to shape the women who looked up to her and follow her example. Now, though, all those who had come to monotheism through Avraham’s hospitality found Sarah’s tent empty. It was Rivka’s task to continue to light Shabbos candles and pass on what Sarah had begun to the next generation.
In a way, we’re all Rivka, standing in Sarah’s tent and wondering if we’ll ever measure up to her example.
As a conversion candidate, I definitely have that feeling of joining a people, but without a flesh and blood mother to guide me, slowly raising me and teaching me. Like Rivka, I’ve had to learn on the job, so to speak, studying the stories of great Jewish women and looking around me for role models. I have had to find my place in a family that has a long and rich history of tradition as someone brought from outside by a desire to become a part of that tradition. I stand in Sarah’s tent, hoping that I can do her memory proud, that I can be a suitable descendant of hers in my own home, raising my own children to carry on those traditions and caring for my own family.
I wonder if Rivka ever got nervous hearing of the greatness of her mother in law. Did she worry that she wouldn’t be worthy of bringing the next generation or did she already have a quiet confidence within her? Did she simply accept this mission as what she was born to do, without fear she’d fail?